By an extremely slim margin, the position of head boss at NASA has finally been filled by Rep. Jim Bridenstine, seven-and-a-half months after President Trump picked him to lead the space agency.
“It is an honour to be confirmed by the United States Senate to serve as NASA administrator,” Bridenstine said in a statement. “I am humbled by this opportunity, and I once again thank President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence for their confidence.
Bridenstine, who has spoken at large about transforming US space policy, added; “I look forward to working with the outstanding team at NASA to achieve the President’s vision for American leadership in space.”
Bridenstine, was confirmed 50-49 for the post that has remained vacant since January 2017 and his appointment has been somewhat of a lukewarm reception. Trump has never been shy of making controversial decisions, but even some members of Bridenstine’s own party had voiced concerns over what would happen to the future of the agency if a politician was put in charge - and one without a scientific background and a questioning view on climate change.
NASA provides some of the most extensive data on climate change in the world, and while Bridenstine agreed during his confirmation hearing in November last year that warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities, he favoured humans as being a contributor to the problem not the primary cause of it.
While these comments did not sit comfortably with many in the opposing political party, it is not these remarks that have garnered the most criticism. NASA has a budget of nearly $19 billion and around 17,000 staff; Bridenstine on the other hand is a former Navy pilot who once ran the Air and Space Museum in Tulsa - where he reportedly ran the museum into a financial loss.
Consequently, Bridenstine’s lack of technical background and professional space experience caused prominent senators to question the republican’s suitability for the role. Speaking at the hearing last year, Sen. Bill Nelson, a ranking member of the committee, said; “While your time as a pilot and your service to our country in the military is certainly commendable, it doesn’t make you qualified to make the complex and nuanced engineering, safety and budgetary decisions for which the head of NASA must be accountable.”
However, not everyone agreed with Senator Nelson and the committee’s Republican majority united behind Bridenstine’s defence.
Now that Bridenstine has overcome unanimous opposition from the Democrats to lead one of the biggest space agencies on the planet, what can we expect from the newly appointed Administrator?
At the hearing, Bridenstine 100 percent supported the continued development of the Orion spacecraft and his stance on a permanent US lunar outpost echoes that of the President’s longer-term outlook. It will be interesting to see how Bridenstine directs NASA’s next steps in not only returning to the moon, but going on to Mars and further in the exploration of deep space.