President Donald Trump has selected Rep. Jim Bridenstine to serve as the new head of NASA, replacing acting administrator Robert M. Lightfoot Jr. Bridenstine was formerly the executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum & Planetarium, served as a Navy combat pilot in Iraq and Afghanistan, and currently serves in the National Guard.
He’s spoken passionately about his desire to see the United States return to the Moon, which he believes would help drive down the cost of further space exploration.
Bridenstine has certainly displayed a keen interest in the work NASA does, but some question whether he has the right credentials to be named as the agency’s administrator. He is a politician and would be one of very few people without any scientific qualifications to take on the role, leading both of Florida’s senators, Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Bill Nelson, to voice their concerns regarding the pick.
“It’s the one federal mission which has largely been free of politics and it’s at a critical juncture in its history,” Rubio told Politico. “I would hate to see an administrator held up — on [grounds of] partisanship, political arguments, past votes, or statements made in the past — because the agency can’t afford it and it can’t afford the controversy.”
“The head of NASA ought to be a space professional, not a politician,” added Nelson in a written statement.
Beyond questions of qualifications, Bridenstine has been known to deny the impact of humans on climate change in the past. This has prompted fears that NASA could be subject to the climate change censorship and attitude of denial that other government bodies have been affected by during the Trump presidency.
“Climate change due to global warming is one of the greatest threats facing us as a species,” astronomer Phil Plait wrote in a post for SyFy regarding the nomination. “The leader of the world’s premier space agency should at the very bare minimum be willing to admit it exists.”
Bridenstine may be President Trump’s top choice to head up NASA, but the appointment isn’t official just yet. He still needs to be confirmed by the Senate, and Rubio, Nelson, or any other senators may oppose that process.