Bridenstine Nominated to Be NASA Administrator

Bridenstine Nominated to Be NASA Administrator

After months of rumors, President Trump has finally nominated Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Oklahoma) to become the next Administrator of NASA.  

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK). Photo credit: Bridenstine website.

The White House announced the nomination at almost 8:00 pm ET on a Friday afternoon before a three-day holiday weekend, a practice often used by previous presidents to downplay news.  President Trump, however, has been making significant announcements late on Friday afternoons during his presidency.

Along with Bridenstine, Trump nominated more than 40 other individuals for a wide variety of other government posts.  Not among them was a nomination for Deputy Administrator.

Bridenstine is in his third term as Congressman from the first district of Oklahoma.  A military pilot (originally Navy, currently Oklahoma Air National Guard), he has made his mark in Congress on a range of civil, commercial and military space issues, although few of them involve NASA.   He is well known for the wide-ranging American Space Renaissance Act  that he introduced in the last Congress.  He made it clear that he never intended for that bill to pass en toto, but instead used it as a repository for provisions that could be inserted in other legislation.   Ten of its provisions made it into legislation in the last Congress.

Overall, he is probably best known in the space policy context for creating the commercial weather data pilot program at NOAA and a parallel effort at DOD.  He once championed expanding the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation’s role to include regulating new types of commercial space activities, although he recently changed his position and is one of the co-sponsors of legislation (with Rep. Lamar Smith and Rep. Brian Babin) that would assign that responsibility to the Department of Commerce instead.

Last fall, he did come out enthusiastically in favor  of lunar exploration, exclaiming “this is our Sputnik moment” at a meeting of NASA’s Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG).  The House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee will hold a hearing on private lunar exploration next week.

He is a member of the House SS&T Committee, and chaired its Environment Subcommittee in the last Congress. He is also a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Apparently not everyone is excited about his nomination.  The Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) tweeted that it supports Bridenstine and hopes Florida’s Senators “do the right thing.”

One criticism of Bridenstine is that he does not have experience managing a large, technical organization like NASA. Cabinet and agency heads are not required to have such experience, however. Often their political connections of are key importance. Bridenstine was an early Trump supporter.  His background as a military pilot gives him some technical credentials in aeronautics, the first A in NASA.

Bridenstine’s nomination must first be approved by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee and its Space, Science, and Competitiveness Subcommittee. The full committee is chaired by Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota) and the subcommittee by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). The top Democrat on the full committee is Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida) and on the subcommittee, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts).

Assuming it clears the committee, a vote of the full Senate then will be required.  A single Senator can delay a vote on a nomination.  CSF’s tweet suggests that Nelson and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) may not yet be convinced that Bridenstine is the right person for the job.

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