Is the next head of NASA going to be a woman?
the last NASA chief Jim Bridenstine has officially stepped down from his role as the administrator of the US space agency as US Joe Biden takes the president's office.
A Trump appointee and a Republican himself, Bridenstine, spent his final days as administrator making last push for the ambitious Artemis programme, that will land the first woman and next man on the lunar surface by 2024.
"It has been my great honour to serve as your @NASA Administrator. I will miss the amazing NASA family and will forever be grateful for my time at this incredible agency. Ad astra," Bridenstine said in a tweet on Wednesday.
"We have done everything we can to build the consensus necessary for this program to be long-term sustainable," Bridenstine told The Verge. "I think as hard as we've worked to build the consensus over the last three years, I think we're in good shape."
President Biden is expected to pick a woman to fill the NASA administrator role, which has only been occupied by men since the agency's founding in 1958.
At the moment, President Joe Biden’s administration has appointed Steve Jurczyk to serve as acting administrator until the role is permanently filled, reports Scientific American.
Jurczyk has been the agency’s associate administrator since May 2018, according to his NASA biography; all told, he has worked at NASA since 1988. Jurczyk is one of 34 acting leaders announced by Biden and his vice president, Kamala Harris, hours after their inauguration.
Will the role permanently feature a woman? Biden-Harris' diverse cabinet features a record number of women. Twelve of Biden's nominations for Cabinet and Cabinet-level positions are women, including eight women of color, and if they're all confirmed it would shatter former President Bill Clinton's record of nine women serving concurrently, which happened during his second term.
Jack Burns, a professor of astrophysics and planetary science at the University of Colorado, and has served on a number of NASA panels, and four years ago he was a member of the transition team that helped get the incoming Trump administration up to speed on NASA's tasks, tells Space "I think the Biden-Harris administration would very much like to name — from everything I understand here — the first woman NASA administrator, and that would be very exciting, long overdue," he said. "And some of the names that have been put forward are extremely well qualified."
Burns did not reveal any of the names being for NASA chief. However, some eminently qualified women — Ellen Stofan and Pam Melroy, for example — are already working with the Biden administration, as members of the current eight-person NASA transition team.
Stofan is a planetary geologist, served as NASA's chief scientist from August 2013 to December 2016. And she has already made history as the first woman to direct the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum, her current gig.
Melroy is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and former NASA astronaut with three space shuttle missions under her belt. She also served as deputy director of the Tactical Technology Office at the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
The other three women on the NASA transition team — climate scientist Shannon Valley, technology and policy analyst Bhavya Lal, and astrophysicist Jedidah Isler — are also extremely accomplished.
But it may be a while before the NASA chief is announced, as Biden-Harris are faced with a pandemic, a crippling economy and a divided country. The last NASA chief, Bridenstine, didn't come aboard until about 18 months into the Trump presidency. It may be well into mid-2021 before a name is announced.
(With inputs from IANS)