The acting head of NASA is stepping down on April 30. Robert M. Lightfoot Jr. told the space agency on Monday in an email where he says its with “bittersweet feelings” he’s going to retire after 28 years at NASA. A clear successor to chief has not yet named and NASA’s number two position as deputy administrator is also vacant as the Trump administrator has yet to nominate someone to the spot.
Lightfoot took over on an interim basis for Charles F. Bolden Jr., who stepped down at the end of President Obama’s term. Lightfoot was associate administrator, the third-highest ranking position at NASA. In September, President Trump nominated Representative Jim Bridenstine to lead NASA as administrator but the Senate has yet to confirm him in the role.
According to the NYT, all 49 Democrats and at least Republican Senator Marco Rubio appear to oppose his nomination at least in part for Bridenstine’s climate change views.
With Lightfoot out soon and the agency number two position also vacant, it’s unclear who will lead NASA forward. Lightfoot served as acting administrator for 406 days, the longest NASA has gone without a permanent leader in its 59 year history.
There’s a new space race underway and it appears NASA will be sitting on the bench while Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and other private citizens pick up where governments have left off.