President-elect Joe Biden named a transition team for NASA a few days ago. The team is made up of eight people — five women and three men, two of whom have already been at NASA’s helm — who will bring Biden up to speed on the agency’s operations and ensure that he and the vice president-elect Kamala Harris “hit the ground running.”
Leadership at NASA is critical not only to issues related to space exploration, but also to the study of the Earth and climate. The transition process is essential to ensure the continuity of the agency’s operations and to determine what funding priorities and future strategies will be.
But who are the people leading this difficult transition? Ellen Stofan — a planetary geologist who has served as a chief scientist at NASA and currently heads the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum — will be leading the team. She is joined by:
- Waleed Abdalati, also a former chief NASA scientist, who currently heads the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences;
- Jedidah Isler, assistant professor of astrophysics at Dartmouth College who in 2014 became the first African American woman to earn a PhD in astrophysics from Yale University;
- Bavya Lal, scientist at the IDA Science and Technology Policy Institute, a federally funded organization that supports the White House Office of Science and Policy and other agencies;
- Pam Melroy, a retired U.S. Air Force officer and former NASA astronaut who flew three space shuttle missions;
- Dave Noble, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union who spent eight years in the Obama administration serving as deputy director and acting director of the Presidential Personnel Office;
- Shannon Valley, a postdoctoral fellow at in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Institute of Technology;
- and David Weaver, director of communications for the Air Line Pilots Association, who served as an associate administrator for NASA’s Office of Communications.
Current NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine — an elected congressman from Oklahoma, personally appointed by Trump — has already announced he will step down as soon as the new president takes office in January.
The work of the new team will not be easy, but the people chosen by the Biden administration are more than capable, given their experience and professional qualifications, to restore the most famous agency in the world. They are also counting on the support of the scientific community, who Trump had alienated through ignorance, information manipulation, and arrogance.
Often, when we think of NASA, we think of distant planets and rocket launches to discover the unknown. But it is also true that one of NASA’s objectives is to protect and help manage our planet. We should remember, as we daydream looking at the stars, that our feet rest on this wonderful planet, our home in the cosmos, without which our dreams of exploring space become in vain.