Bridenstine oath of office
Jim Bridenstine, surrounded by his family, is sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence as NASA administrator April 23. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

WASHINGTON — NASA’s new administrator said he’s “very excited” about leading the space agency as he takes office after an extended confirmation process.

Jim Bridenstine was formally sworn in at NASA Headquarters April 23, four days after the Senate voted 50–49 to confirm his nomination to be the agency’s 13th administrator, and more than seven and a half months after his nomination was formally announced.

After a swearing-in ceremony with Vice President Mike Pence and a brief video chat with astronauts on the International Space Station, Bridenstine met with NASA leadership, where he expressed his support for carrying out the agency’s exploration, science and aeronautics programs.

“In the last few days, I have heard numerous times, ‘Welcome to the NASA family.’ It does truly feel like a family here and I am so humbled to be a part of it,” he said in comments at that meeting, briefly open to the media. “This is truly an exciting time for NASA, and I’m very excited about our future.”

Pence also attended that meeting, where he touched upon familiar themes of advancing American leadership in space. “The president really believes, and I do as well, that NASA plays a critical role of giving expression to that pioneering spirit that is at the very heart of what it is to be an American,” he said. “In the years ahead we’re going to be focusing on all of those aspects of how we can redouble our commitment to leadership here at NASA.”

“President Trump’s vision, and I would share with all the leadership gathered here today, is very clear: that the United States will retain and expand our rightful role as the world’s premier spacefaring nation,” Pence said. He added that Bridenstine and Pence would meet with President Trump in the Oval Office shortly after the meeting.

Neither Pence nor Bridenstine offered any new policy details in their remarks at the meeting or the swearing-in ceremony, and Bridenstine didn’t discuss specific plans for his initial days of running NASA.

At the ceremony, attended by family members and other guests, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Bridenstine offered thanks to many people, including his family, staff and members of Congress of both parties with whom he had previously served. Bridenstine, first elected to the House in 2012, formally tendered his resignation earlier in the day.

Bridenstine also thanked Robert Lightfoot, the former acting administrator whose plans to retire at the end of the month provided the impetus needed to convince one senator, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), to support Bridenstine’s nomination and provide the margin needed for confirmation.

“I also want to thank Robert Lightfoot for his strong leadership during the time of transition and for his decades of service to NASA and to our great country,” Bridenstine said, prompting applause from the NASA employees who attended the ceremony in the auditorium at NASA Headquarters. “His legacy is one of commitment to our mission and leadership in all capacities.”

Pence, in his remarks at the swearing-in ceremony, likened Bridenstine to James Webb, who led NASA during much of the race to the moon in the 1960s, saying he has “the outstanding managerial skills that made James Webb such a successful manager of NASA.” Supporters of Bridenstine during his confirmation process pointed to Webb as an example of a NASA administrator who was successful without having a background as a space industry professional.

“Jim, President Trump and I are absolutely confident that, with your background in military service, with your understanding of public policy, with your experience in management, and with your love for American leadership in space, that you will bring all of those qualities to bear along with your character on a new chapter of renewed American leadership in space,” Pence said.

Pence also said that, shortly before administering the oath of office to Bridenstine, he formally swore in Jeff DeWit as the agency’s chief financial officer. DeWit was confirmed without debate by the Senate in March and had been on the job at NASA since early April.

With Bridenstine and DeWit now confirmed, and with Inspector General Paul Martin held over from the previous administration, only one position at NASA that requires Senate confirmation remains open, that of deputy administrator. The White House has yet to nominate someone to fill that position.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...