Former U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) formally became NASA’s 13th administrator April 23, four days after his controversial nomination narrowly cleared the Senate.

During a swearing-in ceremony at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., Bridenstine paid homage to several of his early and recent predecessors and pledged to build on their work. 

“I will do my best to serve our storied agency to the utmost of my abilities as we reach for new heights and reveal the unknown for the benefit of humankind,” Bridenstine said.

Vice President Mike Pence, who chairs the National Space Council, administered the oath of office. He praised Bridenstine, who served on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, “as one of Congress’ most dedicated champions of American space leadership.”

Bridenstine will usher in “what we believe is a new chapter of renewed American leadership in space,” said Pence, who reiterated the Trump administration’s goal of returning humans to the moon by the late 2020s.

The ceremony audience included Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who chairs the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’s space panel, and White House adviser Kellyanne Conway.

Bridenstine was confirmed by the Senate April 19 on a party-line 50-49 vote. Democrats said he is too partisan and lacks the management and technical expertise needed to lead a large agency like NASA. 

At his confirmation hearing in November, Bridenstine said he has worked with Democrats on space-related issues, such as weather forecasting legislation, and that he would pursue a “consensus agenda” at NASA. While in Congress, he also promoted lunar exploration, small satellites, lightweight launch vehicles, and government purchasing of commercial data and services.

Bridenstine, who resigned his congressional seat a few hours before taking the NASA helm, replaces Robert Lightfoot, who was acting administrator for 15 months.

After the swearing-in, Pence and Bridenstine spoke live with three NASA astronauts who are aboard the International Space Station.

Earlier in the day, Pence swore in Jeff DeWit as the agency’s chief financial officer. DeWit, a former Arizona state treasurer, was confirmed by the Senate by voice vote in March.