Bridenstine Reiterates Support for NASA’s Earth Science Program

Bridenstine Reiterates Support for NASA’s Earth Science Program

The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will vote tomorrow (Wednesday) on the nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) to become the next NASA Administrator.  At his confirmation hearing last week he was asked a lot of questions, but as is common after such hearings, some Senators had additional questions that were sent to him afterwards.  In his answers, he restated his support for NASA’s earth science program and vowed to follow the guidance in Decadal Surveys.

NASA Administrator nominee Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Oklahoma)

The confirmation hearing was very contentious.  One of the issues was Bridenstine’s views on climate change and whether NASA earth scientists would be able to speak freely about their findings without risk of punishment.  Bridenstine expressed a more moderate view about climate change than in the past, agreeing that humans play a role in it, but would not go as far as some Senators wanted in agreeing with the scientific consensus that humans are the primary cause.  He nonetheless asserted his support for NASA’s program and assured Senators that NASA scientists have nothing to fear.

Sen. Todd Young (R-Indiana)

Senator Todd Young, a freshman Republican Senator from Indiana, asked in a written question whether Bridenstine would prioritize earth science at NASA.  Calling NASA’s earth science data “critical for both scientific research and practical application” and noting that some of the instruments are built in Indiana, Young asked that Bridenstine explain his view of the earth science mission “and whether you intend to prioritize it in future NASA budget submissions?”

Bridenstine responded: “I support NASA’s Earth Science mission.”  If confirmed, “NASA will continue to follow the guidance of the Earth Science decadal surveys and I will advocate within the Administration and with Congress to see that the agency is able to carry out the recommendations of those decadal surveys.”

Decadal surveys are produced by expert committees under the aegis of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.  The first decadal survey for earth science was published in 2007.  They are performed every 10 years (a decade) and hence the second one is now underway and close to completion.  The goal is for it to be released by the end of this year.

In response to questions on other topics, Bridenstine said —

  • the Space Launch System and Orion will be the “backbone” of NASA’s deep space exploration program;
  • a continued presence in low Earth orbit is “in our national interest,” but the decision on whether to continue the International Space Station beyond 2024 is “a complicated challenge” and he will work with Congress to determine the best path forward;
  • he will “leverage everything the United States has to offer” so NASA can carry out its mission and that “includes the private sector”;
  • a platform in cis-lunar space like the conceptual Deep Space Gateway (DSG) would provide a lot of opportunities for the United States, including international and commercial partnerships, and he will work with Congress to determine if the DSG “or other Deep Space architectures enable sustainable deep space exploration”;
  • his time as a Member of Congress provided “first hand knowledge of the legislative and budget processes” that will be beneficial if he is confirmed;
  • he agrees that the core missions of NASA are as stated in the 2017 NASA Transition Authorization Act — space science, space technology, aeronautics, human spaceflight and exploration, and education;
  • he was encouraged by the first meeting of the National Space Council in advancing a “whole of government” approach;
  • aeronautics research will be a “priority of mine”;
  • in-situ resource utilization is required to “move sustainably into Deep Space” and NASA will study and characterize water ice on the Moon and elsewhere in space, develop technologies to extract and utilize it, and consider partnerships with private sector entities that plan to harvest resources from asteroids and other celestial bodies; and
  • robotics for satellite servicing and in-space assembly will be critical for many space activities in Earth orbit and beyond.

The Senate committee’s markup session begins at 9:45 am ET Wednesday morning and will be webcast.  Several bills and other nominations are also on the agenda.  Bridenstine’s nomination is number 4 on the list.


Correction:  An earlier version of this article incorrectly indicated that Rep. Bridentstine is from TX in the opening paragraph.  He is, of course, from Oklahoma, as indicated under his photograph.  We apologize for the typo.

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