Robert Lightfoot – NASA’s Longest Serving Acting Administrator to retire

Robert M. Lightfoot Jr.,
NASA Acting Administrator speaks at
National Space Council   Space
Summit
at
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on
Feb 21, 2018.  Credit: Ken Kremer/SpaceUpClose.com/kenkremer.com

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – NASA’s Acting
Administrator Robert Lightfoot, a highly regarded propulsion and spaceflight
engineer, announced his retirement from the space agency effective the end of April
in a letter to NASA employees today, Monday, March 12. Lightfoot’s departure
leaves NASA’s leaderless and with a great deal of uncertainty as to who will
lead the agency into the future and what will be its priorities with a divided
Congress and Country.

“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.”

Lightfoot has led NASA since the beginning of the Trump Administration and is a 29-year veteran of the agency.

He was named acting Administrator in January 2017 and has continued serving throughout
its duration, since taking over from Charlie Bolden who left at the end of the
Obama Administration while awaiting Senate confirmation of a successor.

His tenure of 14 months so far makes Lightfoot the longest serving
NASA Acting Administrator in its 60 year history.

Lightfoot previously served as associate administrator
for NASA, the agency’s highest-ranking civil servant position, effective since
Sept. 25, 2012, which is the third ranking position at NASA.  There is currently no one serving as deputy NASA
Administrator since the start of the Trump Administration.

“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. 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,” Lightfoot wrote to NASA employees.




Robert M. Lightfoot Jr.,
NASA Acting Administrator.  Credits: NASA/Bill
Ingalls


President Trump’s nomination of Rep.
Jim Bridenstine (R-Oklahoma) in September 2017 to
serve as NASA Administrator has been stalled in Congress.  It was advanced by the Senate Commerce Committee
on a party line vote, but the full Senate has not acted. The nomination was resubmitted
in January.





Bridenstine has met united opposition from all
49 Senate Democrats as well as Florida Senator Marco Rubio, reports Space News.
Since Sen. John McCain is still out for cancer treatments, Bridenstine lacks
the votes needed for confirmation and his nomination appears to be in limbo.

Lightfoot recently rolled out NASA’s 2019 Fiscal Year
Budget request during a ‘State of NASA’ speech at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, in
Huntsville, AL as well as participated in the National Space Council Space
Summit held at the Kennedy Space Center, FL last month in Feb. 2018. 

Only time will tell if Lightfoot’s departure will jump
start the Bridenstine nomination or not.  Bridenstine attended the recent KSC Space
Summit as a guest.


Vice President Mike Pence is greeted by NASA Acting Administrator
Lightfoot and Brig General Wayne Montieth at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Air Force 2 on Feb. 20, 2018, to chair a meeting of
the National Space Council on Feb 21. The council discussed the
“Moon, Mars, and Worlds Beyond” initiative. Credit:
Ken
Kremer/SpaceUpClose.com/kenkremer.com

Prior to serving at NASA Headquarters, he
previously served as director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in
Huntsville, Ala from 2009 to 2012 where he “headed one of NASA’s largest field
installations, which plays a critical role in NASA’s space operations,
exploration and science missions.


Lightfoot
began his 29 year NASA career at the Marshall Center in 1989 where he started as
a test engineer and program manager for the space shuttle main engine
technology test bed program and the Russian RD-180 engine testing program for
the Atlas launch vehicle program.
Robert M. Lightfoot Jr.,
NASA Acting Administrator at KSC Space Summit Feb 21, 2018.  Credit: Julian Leek

He
also had high praise for the people at NASA in his retirement letter:

“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
was well regarded and highly decorated with numerous awards during his NASA carrier.

These include a “NASA
Outstanding Leadership medal in 2007 for exemplary leadership of the Shuttle
Propulsion Office, assuring safety for the return to flight of the space
shuttle. In 2006, he was awarded the Presidential Rank Award for Meritorious
Executives, and in 2010 and 2016, he received the Presidential Rank Award for
Distinguished Executives — the highest honors attainable for federal
government work. In 2000, Mr. Lightfoot received a Spaceflight Leadership
Recognition Award, which recognizes leaders who exemplify characteristics necessary
for success. In 1999, NASA’s astronaut corps presented him with a Silver Snoopy
Award, which honors individuals who have made key contributions to the success
of human spaceflight missions. He also received the NASA Exceptional
Achievement Medal in 1996 for significant contributions to NASA’s mission.”




I
enjoyed the opportunity to meet and chat with Robert Lightfoot multiple times
over the years.

Here is the full text of Robert Lightfoot’s retirement letter
to NASA employees:

NASA team,

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

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. 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.

There is no way I would be where I am today without having had such amazing
opportunities and such a great set of colleagues. I’ve learned in so many ways
that at NASA we make the impossible possible – whether it is with the missions
we do or whether it is a small town kid who was able to lead the greatest
agency in the world.

NASA’s history has many chapters with each of us having a part. I’ve written my
part and now the pen is in your hands – each one of you. I know you will make
this nation proud as you accomplish the many missions you have in front of you.
For me, I look forward to more time with my family and closest friends, and
cheering the NASA team on from the outside.

God speed to all of you and thanks for the opportunity to be part of something
truly bigger than each of us individually! It’s been an unbelievable ride!

Sincerely,

Robert

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of NASA, SpaceX,
ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK and more
space and mission
reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force
Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing
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ken
at kenkremer.com

Ken Kremer

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of NASA, SpaceX, ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and more space and mission reports direct from Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news. Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics. Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events.

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