We've had to wait a long time, but the Trump Administration has finally made its pick for the next person to lead NASA.
In a statement yesterday, it was revealed that Republican Congressman Jim Bridenstine, the Representative for Oklahoma, would be Trump's nomination for NASA Administrator.
Bridenstine will need to be approved by the Senate before he can fill the position. A Deputy Administrator has not yet been named, but various outlets had suggested it would be John Schumacher from Aerojet Rocketdyne, who is a former NASA chief of staff. He has since reportedly removed himself from consideration, due to family health issues.
“I am pleased to have Rep. Bridenstine nominated to lead our team,” NASA's Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot, who has run the agency since Trump took office, said in a statement. “I look forward to working with a new leadership team, and the administration, on NASA’s ongoing mission of exploration and discovery.”
So, who is Jim Bridenstine? Well, he has been elected twice to the US House of Representatives, in 2012 and 2016. He has been active on space issues in Congress, serving on the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. He reportedly put his name forward for the job in February.
He will succeed Charlie Bolden, who was Obama's pick for Administrator during his two terms in office. Obama had already nominated Bolden by May of his first year; it's taken Trump until September.
His nomination has immediately drawn criticism, however. Florida Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, Republican and Democrat respectively, both said they were concerned about a politician leading NASA. Others have cited his lack of experience as a problem.
“The head of NASA ought to be a space professional, not a politician,” Nelson told Politico. “I just think it could be devastating for the space program,” added Rubio.
Their concerns seem to stem around issues of partisanship and political arguments slowing NASA's progress. For example, Bridenstine has made some alarming statements about climate change in the past, namely that global temperature changes were due to the Sun's output and ocean cycles rather than human activity. Later comments, though, suggest he may not be a denier of human-caused global warming.
It's worth noting that one of NASA's arguably most successful administrators of all time, James Webb, was very much a man of politics and not space. Webb was responsible for fighting NASA's corner in the 1960s and was largely responsible for the success of the Apollo missions. NASA even named their upcoming successor to the Hubble telescope after him, the James Webb Space Telescope.