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NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot to retire

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot announced he was retiring from the agency where he has worked for 29 years on Monday.

Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, issued a statement commending Lightfoot for his service.

“For years, NASA has benefited from Robert Lightfoot’s leadership, both at Marshall Space Flight Center and at NASA headquarters,” Brooks said. “Robert has been integral in achieving NASA’s numerous missions, and I commend him for his many years of dedicated service to America. As Vice-Chair of the Space Subcommittee on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, I look forward to working closely with President Trump’s nominee to lead the agency. The Senate has now failed to act on President Trump’s nominee for 193 days and counting—far longer than the 45 days it typically takes to confirm a NASA administrator. Prior to this Administration, the longest NASA had endured without a Senate confirmed administrator was 80 days. The Senate should swiftly confirm President Trump’s nominee for the sake of NASA’s mission success and its employees.”

Lightfoot is a rocket propulsion engineer and career civil servant who has led the space agency since the beginning of the Trump administration. Lightfoot joined NASA in 1989 at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville as an engineer and program manager on the space shuttle main engine and the RD-180 engine test campaign for the Atlas 5 rocket. He was named director of the propulsion test directorate at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi in 2002, then served as assistant associate administrator for the space shuttle program at NASA Headquarters from 2003 to 2005, helping oversee the shuttle’s return to flight after the Columbia accident.

Lighfoot became manager of the space shuttle propulsion office at Marshall in 2005. From 2007 to 2009 he served as deputy director of Marshall before his appointment as director of the space center, where he remained until he was named NASA’s associate administrator in 2012. Lightfooot said that he will retire from the space agency at the end of April.

Lightfoot made the announcement in a memo to NASA employees.

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“It is with bittersweet feelings that I am announcing I will be retiring from the agency on April, 30, 2018,” Lightfoot wrote. “I will work with the White House on a smooth transition to the new administrator.”

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“I cannot express enough my gratitude to the entire NASA team for the support during my career and especially the last 14 months as your acting administrator,” Lightfoot wrote. “The grit and determination you all demonstrate every day in achieving our missions of discovery and exploration are simply awe inspiring. I leave NASA blessed with a career full of memories of stunning missions, cherished friendships, and an incredible hope for what is yet to come. When I look back on my time at NASA, I can’t help but think about the people. From my friends in the test areas at Marshall and Stennis, to the folks that I sat with on console launching shuttles, to the Marshall team when I was the center director, and now as the acting administrator to the entire NASA team – what a privilege to work with such dedicated and passionate people every day.”

Lightfoot is the longest serving interim NASA Administrator in history, assuming the role when Obama appointee Charlie Bolden left the top job.

President Donald Trump nominated Congressman Jim Bridenstine, R-Oklahoma, to the role, but the Senate never voted on Bridenstine’s nomination to take office as the head of NASA.

The White House re-submitted Bridenstine’s nomination in January, but the Senate has yet to even vote on his confirmation.

Bridenstine is a member of the House Freedom Caucus. There is speculation in the space industry that the Senate has not voted on Bridenstine because he lacks enough support for confirmation.

All 49 Senate Democrats are expected to vote against to Bridenstine’s confirmation and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, is also reportedly opposed, according to original reporting by Space News. Senator John McCain, R-Arizona, is not in Washington while he is undergoing treatment for cancer, making Bridenstine’s confirmation unlikely at this point.

Congressman Mo Brooks represents Alabama’s 5th Congressonal District.

(Original reporting by Spaceflight Now’s Stephen Clarke contributed to this report.)

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