NASA needs Janet Kavandi if we’re going to make it back to the moon — then Mars

NASA needs Janet Kavandi if we’re going to make it back to the moon — then Mars
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The White House has not yet filled the key position of NASA’s deputy administrator — but NASA Administrator Jim BridenstineJames (Jim) Frederick Bridenstine2020 Democratic Party platform endorses Trump's NASA moon program Russia rejects joining NASA's Artemis moon program in favor of China House appropriators cut NASA's moon landing funds; will Senate do better? MORE has his sight on an incredibly qualified candidate: Janet Kavandi.

Kavandi has a lot of skills and experience that the administrator will find useful for help in running NASA. Her lack of something else will also be an asset.


Kavandi started her career working at Eagle-Picher Industries in Joplin, Missouri and then Boeing in Seattle, Washington. While at Boeing, she worked on a number of defense and NASA projects, including lunar base and Mars base studies. She acquired a doctorate in analytical chemistry at the University of Washington while still working at Boeing.


Kavandi was selected as a NASA astronaut in 1994 and subsequently flew on three space shuttle missions. After her last space flight she served in a number of management posts at the Johnson Spaceflight Center, including:

  • deputy chief of the Astronaut Office
  • deputy director of Flight Crew Operations
  • director of Flight Crew Operations

Kavandi is currently director of the NASA Glenn Research Center.

Some of the complaints raised against Bridenstine when he was locked in a confirmation fight with Senate Democrats led by Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William Nelson Trump, facing trouble in Florida, goes all in NASA names DC headquarters after agency's first Black female engineer Mary W. Jackson NASA, SpaceX and the private-public partnership that caused the flight of the Crew Dragon MORE (D-Fla.) was that he lacked scientific and engineering experience. Kavandi has both and would be well positioned to advise Bridenstine when he has to make decisions requiring such knowledge.

Also, since Kavandi has held a number of management positions at NASA, she likely knows how the bureaucracy works. The knowledge of the inner workings of NASA is crucial for Bridenstine’s job to bring reform and new ways of doing things to the space agency. Bureaucracies tend to resist change, even when it is beneficial, such as commercial partnerships for returning Americans to the moon. Kavandi’s help will be also be crucial in bringing the space agency to heel and getting it to accept the reforms Bridenstine was nominated to enact.

Kavandi also lacks a political record, something else that will be an asset. Bridenstine got into trouble because he was an elected politician, the first to be nominated to head NASA. However, he has left partisan politics behind and has even won over some of his former Democratic critics now that he has been confirmed as administrator. Good relations with Congress will be necessary to get humans back to the moon.

The nomination of Kavandi as NASA’s deputy administrator would avoid the horrendous mistake that President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden's immigration plan has serious problems Hearing for Twitter hack suspect Zoom-bombed by porn, rap music Read: Sally Yates testimony MORE made by naming Lori Garver to the same post. Garver has many talents and knows space policy inside and out. However, she is a partisan liberal Democrat, something that did not seem to bother some of the same senators who objected to Bridenstine’s status as a conservative Republican.

Garver’s fingerprints were also all over the cancelation of the Bush-era Constellation space exploration program a controversial decision which made her tenure at NASA contentious.

According to the New York Times, Scott Pace, the current executive director of the National Space Council, noted that during the Obama era, “One of the legacies has been the decline and deterioration of relationships between the White House and Congress over the direction of space policy. (Garver) was part of it. I don’t put sole blame on her. She was one of the more visible faces of that.”

The deterioration hampered NASA’s efforts to create commercial crew space vehicles to replace the space shuttle. Kavandi’s appointment would avoid that kind of rancor.

Kavandi’s main virtue is that Bridenstine wants her for the job. While the post of NASA deputy administrator is a politically-appointed job, the Trump administration should take note that the man they chose to lead America back to the moon, on to Mars, and beyond thinks she is a good fit for the position. Her skills and experience would tend to support that view.

Mark Whittington is the author of space exploration studies “Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon? as well as “The Moon, Mars and Beyond.”