space exploration ‘should never be political’

ORLANDO, Fla. – In his final 24 hours leading NASA, Jim Bridenstine had a message for the next space agency head: science and discovery should always be uniting.

Departing during an extremely partisan time in politics, Bridenstine implored the next administrator to keep those politics out of space exploration.

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The former Republican congressman reflected on the support for NASA’s moon versus Mars programs, saying it should not be divided by political parties.

“Republicans were going to the moon and Democrats were going to Mars, that is a terrible way to look at Space Exploration this should never be political,” he said. “It should never be partisan, it should always be uniting it should bring people together for science and discovery and exploration.”

He asked the next agency leader to continue “working with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle in an analytical way to bring the constancy of purpose.”

Changing administrations is something NASA, as well as every federal agency, must handle, but space programs often span decades and multiple administrations.

“This is an agency that that does not do well, when we get cast to and fro between administrations but if we have constancy of purpose which means we have to constantly be building coalitions, constantly be driving consensus and constantly bringing Republicans and Democrats together around a common shared vision and and and as we do that bringing our international partners with us,” Bridenstine said.

NASA’s goal to return humans, including the first woman, to the moon is part of the “constancy of purpose,” inspiring the “Artemis generation,” the outgoing administrator said.

“Twenty years from now my kids are going to watch as a new generation of astronauts are developing capability on the surface of the moon, and, of course, when I talk about 20 years from now, hopefully, I’ll be around to see it as well,” Bridenstine said.

The Artemis moon program has received bipartisan support although not always the full funding that NASA sought. The agency requested $3.3 billion for a human landing system on the moon and Congress approved $850 million, all the more reason, says Bridenstine, to continue working toward “bipartisan apolitical support” for the program.

The 45-year-old former congressman from Oklahoma has led the agency through the first return to astronaut launches from U.S. soil since 2011 and awarding billions of dollars in commercial contracts to further the agency’s moon program with the help of private companies and international partners.

“There’s no doubt that being the NASA administrator is unlike any other job on the planet. And whatever I do next, it’s going to be very difficult to match this experience for anything I do for the rest of my life,” Bridenstine said.

Bridenstine hasn’t revealed what’s next for him but plans to return home to his family in Oklahoma and is most excited to spend more time with them.

“I’m looking forward to attending all of my kids, soccer games and swim meets and scouting events and doing all the things that I’ve missed out on for the last eight years, so I’m very excited about coming back home,” he said.

Bridenstine is also excited to watch NASA’s milestones from the sidelines, including the upcoming Mars rover landing in February which includes the first helicopter on the red planet.

President-elect Joe Biden has yet to name who will lead the space agency through a critical point in the ambitious timeline to return to the lunar surface. President Donald Trump challenged the agency to fast-track the lunar program by four years, putting boots on the moon in 2024 instead of 2028.

Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard is also leaving NASA on the final day of the Trump administration. NASA associate administrator Steve Jurczyk will serve as acting NASA administrator until Biden nominates and the Senate confirms his pick.

Bridenstine said whoever fills his shoes will have his “full support to do the amazing things that NASA does.”


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