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Trump Picks Climate Science Denier To Head NASA

by Countable | 9.5.17

What’s the story?

President Trump has tapped Rep. Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma to take charge of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

While Bridenstine is a veteran Navy fighter pilot, and worked as executive director of the Tulsa Air & Space Museum & Planetarium, he also doesn’t believe that humans cause climate change.

He’d be the first politician to lead the agency.

As a member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, Bridenstine has focused on trying to revitalize NASA, most notably with his American Space Renaissance Act, "a wide-ranging bill that included provisions regarding national security, civil and commercial space," according to Space News. The Oklahoma Congressman has also spoken out against the “absolutely huge” problem of orbital debris.

Bridenstine’s nomination requires confirmation by the Senate, but he’s faced criticism from scientists and politicians on both sides of the aisle.

Why does it matter?

While NASA is best known for its space exploration, it’s also one of the leading sources of climate change research.

In Aerospace America, Bridenstine said that he has "absolutely no problem studying the climate. That's what [NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] do." However, in the same interview, he also said that "space-based assets that are studying climate change are not in agreement with terrestrial assets in studying climate change."

"This is not the case, "Popular Mechanics said in a piece on Bridenstine’s nomination. The magazine noted that in 2015, both NASA and NOAA declared that “2015 temperatures continue a long-term warming trend." "Climate change is the challenge of our generation, and NASA's vital work on this important issue affects every person on Earth," said then-administrator Charles Bolden. And in 2016, both agencies agreed that “Earth's 2016 surface temperatures were the warmest since modern record-keeping began in 1880."

Critics of Bridenstine also reference this clip, from 2013, of the Congressman demanding that then-President Obama apologize for spending money to research climate change, which Bridenstine says has "stopped."

"Global temperatures stopped rising 10 years ago. Global temperature changes, when they exist, correlate with Sun output and ocean cycles. During the Medieval Warm Period from 800 to 1300 A.D.—long before cars, power plants, or the Industrial Revolution—temperatures were warmer than today. During the Little Ice Age from 1300 to 1900 A.D., temperatures were cooler. Neither of these periods were caused by any human activity."

Though Bridenstine has no science background, he has worked in the private sector in defense contracting and aerospace, and has pushed for a greater reliance on the commercial sector. "The U.S. government understands that in the future, and even today, it will be a customer of routine space services, not a provider of routine space services," he said in a speech in November.

He’s also advocated for opening up the Moon to commercial activity.

Florida Sens. Marco Rubio (R) and Bill Nelson (D) – whose state is home to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral – have publicly objected to the choice of a politician to lead NASA.

"The head of NASA ought to be a space professional, not a politician," Nelson said in a statement to Politico. (For reference, the most recent NASA chief, Charles Bolden, is a decorated war veteran who was also an astronaut for 14 years.)

Meanwhile, Rubio told Politico that NASA has "largely been free of politics and it’s at a critical juncture in its history. 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."

But, as Space News noted, Bridenstine’s "emphasis on greater reliance on the commercial sector, has won him support in industry." Mike Gold, chairman of the FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee, and vice president at Space Systems Loral, said, “Jim Bridenstine has a passion for space that is unparalleled, and a knowledge of the field that is both broad and deep. “If he is selected as NASA administrator it will be a home run for the administration.”

What can you do?

Bridenstine’s nomination to head NASA requires a Senate vote. Do you agree that NASA should focus less on climate change and more on commercial space travel? Is it alright for a politician to lead the agency? Or do you want to see your Senators deny Bridenstine’s confirmation? Hit the Take Action button, tell your reps how they should vote, then comment below.

—Josh Herman

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