[...] In September, President Trump nominated Jim Bridenstine, a Republican congressman from Oklahoma, to be the next administrator. But the Senate has yet to vote to confirm Mr. Bridenstine.
All 49 Democrats in the Senate appear unified in opposition, in part because Mr. Bridenstine gave a speech disparaging climate change several years ago. Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, has also expressed doubts about Mr. Bridenstine.
The space agency's No. 2 position, deputy administrator, is vacant. The Trump administration has yet to nominate anyone. Steve Jurczyk, formerly the associate administrator for space technology, was named in late February as a temporary fill-in for Mr. Lightfoot's previous job, associate administrator. NASA is also lacking a chief of staff.
[...] Mr. Lightfoot's 406 days as acting administrator is by far the longest NASA has operated without a permanent leader, eclipsing the 176 days that passed at the start of the Obama administration before Mr. Bolden was confirmed.
Representative Jim Bridenstine, Republican of Oklahoma, will be nominated by President Trump to serve as NASA's next administrator, the White House said on Friday night.
Mr. Bridenstine, a strong advocate for drawing private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin more deeply into NASA's exploration of space, had been rumored to be the leading candidate for the job, but months passed without an announcement. If confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Bridenstine, 42, would be the first elected official to hold that job.
[...] Although NASA has little presence in Oklahoma, Mr. Bridenstine, a former Navy Reserve pilot who is now in his third term in the House [of] Representatives, has long had an interest in space. Before being elected to Congress in 2012, he was executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Planetarium from 2008 to 2010.
[...] Mr. Bridenstine has supported a return to the moon, a departure from the Obama administration's focus on sending astronauts to Mars in coming decades.
Florida's Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson blasted the choice. Nelson said that "The head of NASA ought to be a space professional, not a politician."
No more sending humans to an asteroid. We're going back to the Moon:
The policy calls for the NASA administrator to "lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities." The effort will more effectively organize government, private industry, and international efforts toward returning humans on the Moon, and will lay the foundation that will eventually enable human exploration of Mars.
"The directive I am signing today will refocus America's space program on human exploration and discovery," said President Trump. "It marks a first step in returning American astronauts to the Moon for the first time since 1972, for long-term exploration and use. This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprints -- we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars, and perhaps someday, to many worlds beyond."
The policy grew from a unanimous recommendation by the new National Space Council, chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, after its first meeting Oct. 5. In addition to the direction to plan for human return to the Moon, the policy also ends NASA's existing effort to send humans to an asteroid. The president revived the National Space Council in July to advise and help implement his space policy with exploration as a national priority.
Previously: Should We Skip Mars for Now and Go to the Moon Again?
How to Get Back to the Moon in 4 Years, Permanently
NASA Eyeing Mini Space Station in Lunar Orbit as Stepping Stone to Mars
NASA and Roscosmos Sign Joint Statement on the Development of a Lunar Space Station
Bigelow and ULA to Put Inflatable Module in Orbit Around the Moon by 2022
In 1989, President George H.W. Bush announced the Space Exploration Initiative, a long-range commitment toward the human exploration of deep space, beginning with a return to the Moon. "Major parts of that policy went forward, but establishing permanence on the Moon was abandoned," Bridenstine said Tuesday. Then, in 2004, President George W. Bush announced a bold plan to send humans back to the Moon, where they would learn how to operate in deep space and then go on to Mars. This became the Constellation program. Again, major parts of that policy went forward, Bridenstine said. But NASA abandoned the drive back to the Moon.
Before the US Senate confirmed pilot and former congressman Bridenstine, the Trump administration announced a plan to send humans back to the Moon. "To many, this may sound similar to our previous attempts to get to the Moon," Bridenstine said Tuesday. "However, times have changed. This will not be Lucy and the football again."
How have times changed? During his brief address, Bridenstine listed several technologies that he believes have lowered the cost of a lunar return. These include the miniaturization of electronics that will allow for smaller robotic vehicles, the decreasing costs of launch, private investment in spaceflight, commercial interest in lunar resources, and new ways of government contracting. (Bridenstine did not mention the Space Launch System rocket or the Orion spacecraft).
The speech was only a few minutes long, so I wouldn't read too much into the absence of SLS/Orion. But it's no secret that BFR could deliver 150 metric tons to the Moon or Mars by using in-orbit refueling, vs. a lot less when using the expensive SLS.
Should We Skip Mars for Now and Go to the Moon Again?
How to Get Back to the Moon in 4 Years, Permanently
After the Falcon Heavy Launch, Time to Defund the Space Launch System?
President Trump Praises Falcon Heavy, Diminishes NASA's SLS Effort
NASA's Chief of Human Spaceflight Rules Out Use of Falcon Heavy for Lunar Station
NASA Cancels Lunar Rover