WASHINGTON — Jim Bridenstine, the Oklahoma Republican congressman President Trump tapped late Friday as NASA’s next administrator, is someone who champions commercial access to space, thinks a return to the moon is vital to U.S. strategic interests, and has dismissed the science behind climate change.
If the Senate confirms the 42-year-old former Navy flier, he would be the first elected politician to hold a job that’s been the purview of scientists, engineers and astronauts.
Bridenstine, who sits on the House Science, Space and Technology and the Armed Services committees, doesn’t have a formal science background. His last job before being elected to represent Oklahoma’s 1st District in 2012 was as executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum & Planetarium.
A low-key member of Congress serving his third term, the Rice University graduate has won praise for his work advancing the interests of the emerging commercial space industry.
“He’s well versed on the broad spectrum on civil, commercial, military space. He really understands a lot of the pressing issues that the industry and the government face in this spectrum,” said Eric Stallmer, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, an industry trade group. “He’s a very wise choice for the position.”
Bridenstine has made it clear he wants the U.S. to re-establish its dominance on and around the moon, a destination that the Obama administration had largely ignored as it focused NASA’s resources on a long-term mission to Mars.
“We all want to get to Mars in 2033 (but the moon) is critically important to the geo-political position of the United States of America,” he said in a February hearing of the space committee. “Mars is the horizon goal. It’s critical. We need to get there (but) the moon I believe is necessary.”
Republicans are expected to keep the seat If Bridenstine wins confirmation. Trump won the district by 61% last year.
Bridenstine’s nomination, announced days before Vice President Pence is expected to convene his first National Space Council meeting, is already generating pushback.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fl., the top Democrat on the Commerce, Science and Technology Committee that will handle Bridenstine’s confirmation, said appointing a member of Congress to run NASA could hurt the agency’s reputation as a non-political institution.
“The head of NASA ought to be a space professional, not a politician,” he said in a statement released by his office Saturday morning.
Democrats like Nelson also are likely to bring up Bridenstine’s dismissal of climate change and its link to human activity during a floor speech in 2013.
“Global temperatures stopped rising 10 years ago,” Bridenstine said, refuting the overwhelming conclusion of the scientific community. “Global temperature changes, when they exist, correlate with sun output and ocean cycles.”
Mr. Speaker, global temperatures stopped rising 10 years ago. Global temperature changes, when they exist, correlate with Sun output and ocean cycles. During the Medieval Warm Period from 800 to 1300 A.D. —long before cars, power plants, or the Industrial Revolution—temperatures were warmer than today. During the Little Ice Age from 1300 to 1900 A.D., temperatures were cooler. Neither of these periods were caused by any human activity. Even climate change alarmists admit that the number of hurricanes hitting the U.S. and the number of tornado touchdowns have been on a slow decline for over 100 years. But here’s what we absolutely know. We know that Oklahoma will have tornadoes when the cold jet stream meets the warm gulf air. And we also know that this President spends 30 times as much money on global warming research as he does on weather forecasting and warning. For this gross misallocation, the people of Oklahoma are ready to accept the President’s apology, and I intend to submit legislation to fix this.
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio also expressed reservations about Trump’s nominee.
“NASA is at a critical juncture in history, and it is important that its mission remain free of politics and partisanship,” he said in a statement. “I want to be without reservation because the space industry is too important to Florida’s economy. The agency cannot afford controversy or a delay in the nomination process. I look forward to looking closely at Representative Bridenstine’s record and ensuring that Florida continues to play a leading role in America’s space program.”
Rubio had more pointed words in an interview with Politico where he worried about Bridenstine’s “political baggage.”
In the interview, Rubio said he had no plans to hold against the Oklahoma congressman’s political rhetoric during the 2016 presidential primary campaign.
Bridenstine appeared in ads on behalf of Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz that suggested Rubio, then a candidate for the White House, was soft on terror and slammed Rubio’s support of immigration reform.
After Cruz dropped out, Bridentstine became an enthusiastic supporter of Trump and was said to have spent months lobbying the White House for the NASA administrator job.
NASA’s core missions are not expected to change with a new administrator.
Short-term goals of improving super-sonic flight, planetary exploration missions, and developing private spacecraft to fly astronauts to the International Space Station from U.S. soil are too far along to reverse course and have too much congressional buy-in even if a new chief wanted to change direction. So too is the agency’s long-term goal of sending astronauts to Mars by the 2030s.
Stallmer, who served in Iraq with Bridenstine, said he doesn’t think NASA would undergo dramatic change —at least initially — under the Oklahoma congressman.
“He’ll do a bottom-up review and look at the agency, look at the mission areas they’re focused on, focus on the core competencies and where they can build partnerships,” he said. “I don’t think he’s going to come in a shake things up right away. He’s a very thoughtful, methodical leader. And I think he’s going to be on a listening campaign within the agency and the centers and engage that before he makes any kind of major policy decisions.”
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