NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine testifies before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation during a hearing titled, “Moon to Mars: NASA’s Plans for Deep Space Exploration,” Wednesday, July 17, 2019, at the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

WASHINGTON — Former NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine is wading into one of Virginia’s congressional races, backing a Republican candidate with a background in national security space.

Bridenstine told SpaceNews he decided to endorse John Henley, a former U.S. Air Force legislative liaison who worked on the standup of the U.S. Space Force, because of his space and national security expertise. Henley announced Jan. 20 he will be running for the House seat in Virginia’s 10th district currently occupied by two-term incumbent Jennifer Wexton (D). 

A year after stepping down from NASA’s top job, Bridenstine said the nation’s challenges in space are becoming more complex. “Congress and the space community would benefit by having more members with national security and space policy experience,” he said.

When Bridenstine served as a member of Congress from Oklahoma he worked with Henley who was the Air Force’s legislative liaison, he said. He understands “space as an enterprise, from national security space to commercial space to civil space,” Bridenstine said. “It’s a unique perspective that I think is important for Congress to have.”

After retiring from the military in 2019, Henley was an adviser to Voyager Space and worked on classified space procurement programs at the Space Rapid Capabilities Office.

Jo-Anne Sears, partner at Velocity Government Relations in Arlington, Virginia, said it’s still too early to predict what could happen in the race for the state’s 10th district, which borders the Washington, D.C., area. Henley first has to win the Republican primary in June before he can challenge Wexton in the November mid-term election. 

Sears, who works with space and defense businesses, said there is “always a need for more advocacy and understanding of space issues in Congress given the increasingly dynamic policy and national security environment.”

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...