NASA yesterday named Robert Lightfoot as the Acting NASA administrator, taking over from Charles Bolden when he leaves on January 20, 2017 at the start of the Trump administration.
Lightfoot is a former Director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, having begun his NASA career there in 1989. He transferred to NASA Headquarters in 2012 to serve as Associate Administrator, the highest ranking civil service position in the agency. It is traditional for the highest ranking NASA civil servant to take over as acting administrator during changes in presidential administrations. The Trump transition has not always followed traditional paths so today’s announcement provided some degree of reassurance. Bolden said the Trump transition team officially told NASA yesterday that Lightfoot will serve in that job. A mechanical engineer, he has served in many capacities at Marshall, Stennis Space Center and Headquarters, including assistant associate administrator for the space shuttle program (2003-2005) at headquarters and manager of the space shuttle propulsion office at MSFC (2005-2007). He was named MSFC Deputy Director in 2007 and Director in 2009.
Essentially Lightfoot will act as a placeholder until the new administration names its pick for the position.