Lightfoot Confident His Departure Won’t Delay Important Decisions

Lightfoot Confident His Departure Won’t Delay Important Decisions

Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot expressed confidence today that important NASA decisions will not be delayed even if a new Administrator is not in place before he leaves the agency on April 30. A new Acting Administrator would also have all the requisite authorities to make decisions, he stressed.

Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot speaks at the American Astronautical Society’s Goddard Memorial Symposium, March 14, 2018. Screengrab.

Lightfoot spoke to the American Astronautical Society’s annual Goddard Memorial Symposium this morning, just two days after announcing that he will retire at the end of next month.  He has been Acting Administrator for 14 months since the Trump Administration took office on January 20, 2017, in addition to his regular duties as Associate Administrator, the third highest ranking position in the agency.

President Trump nominated Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Oklahoma) to be the next NASA Administrator in September 2017, but it is controversial and the Senate has not confirmed him yet.

Asked today if a potential leadership vacuum could delay important decisions like whether Europa Clipper should be launched on the Space Launch System or a commercial rocket, Lightfoot said he did not expect “hardly any.”   “I’ve got a budget … that tells me what to go do. … Whoever the Acting Administrator is, if Jim is not confirmed, which we hope he is by the time I leave, there will be an Acting Administrator and that Acting Administrator will have the full authority to do what they need to do.  We’re not going to hold up things. … We have to keep going.  We’ve got too much to do.”

Lightfoot was also asked what advice he would give to his successor.  He said he had thought about that, and has spoken to Bridenstine several times, but in short the advice has two parts: first, “stay curious, don’t take status quo as the right answer, always push” and second, “there are no dumb questions … your team has the answers, you just need to learn the art of asking the right questions.”

More broadly, he shared these thoughts about his departure after nearly 30 years at NASA.

“As I think about moving on to the next stage for me, this is not about a single person … never has been, never will be….  We’re a team … and a team  of teams….  It’s gonna tear me apart to not be part of this team with that NASA badge.  That day you turn that NASA badge in, I know how hard that is.  I’ve talked to all my buddies. … It’s part of all our identities. … [but] the whole value of what we do from an agency perspective is being part of something bigger than yourself.  … I look forward to watching the decade of the 2020s in terms of what we’re going to do going forward.  Partnerships are going be part of it.  NASA’s going to be part of it.  And there’s going to be times when industry is just leading us that way.” — Robert Lightfoot

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