Jim Bridenstine Explains Why He is Qualified to be NASA Administrator

Rep. Jim Bridenstine

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) says that his leadership efforts in Congress on space issues qualifies him to serve as NASA administrator.

“For three terms in Congress, have led comprehensive, bipartisan, space reforms with the objective of preserving America’s preeminence and global leadership in space,” Bridenstine stated in a notarized document submitted to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

“These efforts have led me to a deep understanding of the complex challenges NASA will face bringing together traditional space companies and new space entrepreneurs into a comprehensive NASA vision for both exploration and science,” he added. “Traditional and new space companies are both critical to accelerating America’s space renaissance.”

In the document, which queried Bridenstine on his views and qualifications for NASA’s top job, the congressman listed NASA’s top three challenges as:

  • “Maintaining consistency and constancy of purpose while establishing a consensus agenda that can bridge multiple administrations regardless of party. This is essential to avoid resource-wasting program cancellations and maintains high morale both within the Agency and its contractor workforce;
  • “Maintaining and building international partnerships while ending dependency on unfriendly nations to avoid exploitable vulnerabilities;
  • “Bringing together traditional space companies and new space entrepreneurs into a comprehensive NASA vision to maximize resources and create efficiencies.”

“My committee assignments and subcommittee subcommittee chairmanship placed me in a position of responsibility for oversight of America’s civil, commercial, and national security space,” Bridenstine added. “NASA is an incredible leadership and soft power tool for the United States of America. With NASA’s global leadership, we will pioneer the solar system, sending humans back to the Moon, to Mars, and beyond. This requires a consistent, sustainable strategy for deep space exploration.”

The congressman is a member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, and he sites on the Space and Energy subcommittees. He also is a member of the House Committee on Armed Services.

Bridenstine also mentions his experience with large acquisitions as an asset in overseeing NASA and its $19.5 billion budget.

“I have participated in simulation experiments with future warfighting technologies and determined requirements necessary to support and initiate acquisition programs,” he wrote. “On behalf of the armed forces, I have developed requests for proposal and evaluated the corporate responses. I understand the complexity of large acquisitions and the legal necessity of managing them properly.”

Bridenstine includes of list of civilian, military and commercial space legislation that he authored and co-authored during five years in the House of Representatives. (See list below) The legislation has been focused on improving weather forecasting and the promoting the greater use of commercial assets to meet government space needs.

One piece of legislation Bridenstine does not mention is the American Space Renaissance Act (ASRA), which he introduced last year. The measure included a broad range of proposed changes covering all aspects of the nation’s space effort. It was not intended to be passed as one bill but as a series of measures.

ASRA contained provisions for reorganizing NASA around a “pioneering doctrine” focused on human expansion into space while “ridding itself of extraneous responsibilities handled elsewhere within the Federal Government or private industry.”

The measure proposed eliminating NASA’s first institutional objective, which reads, “The expansion of human knowledge of the Earth and of phenomena in the atmosphere and space.”  It would have been replaced by, ” The expansion of the human sphere of influence throughout the Solar System.”

[ For more information, see: “What Might Happen to NASA’s Earth Science Programs Under Bridenstine?“]

ASRA indicated that NASA’s Earth Science programs, which include a substantial amount of climate change research, would be transferred out of the space agency to NOAA and other agencies. The Trump Administration appears to be leaning in that direction as well, although some Earth science work might stay at NASA.

Both Bridenstine and President Donald Trump have questioned whether the Earth is warming and whether humans are the cause of it. Trump has called global warming a hoax invented by the Chinese and proposed steep cuts at NOAA and in NASA’s Earth Science division, including the cancellation of four missions.

Bridenstine’s statement to the Senate Commerce Committee makes no mention of climate change. However, it does somewhat confusingly indicate that NASA would continue to perform Earth science work in some form.

I am fully familiar with NASA’s role as a purchasing agent for NOAA and how critical this partnership is to protect lives and property. As a United States Representative from Oklahoma, I have led efforts to improve severe weather prediction and I have come to appreciate how complex Earth is as a system. NASA must continue studying our home planet. Unfortunately, Earth science sometimes gets pitted against planetary science for resources. This is not in the best interest of NASA, the United States, or the world. Mars once had a magnetic field, rivers, lakes, and an ocean on its north pole. At some point, Mars changed dramatically and we should strive to understand why. Studying other planets can inform our understanding of Earth. NASA must continue to advance both Earth science and planetary science for the benefit of mankind.

The paragraph is interesting in how it defines NASA’s continuing role in Earth science. It begins with a discussion with the space agency’s support of NOAA on weather forecasting, which is related to but different from long-term climate research that both agencies work on. Bridenstine has been laser focused on improving weather forecasting in order to protect his Oklahoma constituents from tornadoes while questioning whether human-induced climate change is occurring.

The congressman then bemoans that NASA Earth science is often in conflict with planetary exploration for funding within the agency’s Science Directorate without proposing any solution to the problem. Bridenstine then discusses the value of exploring Mars to understand how its climate changed in the very distant past to better understand conditions on Earth.

So, in summary: NASA Earth Science has a role in supporting NOAA in weather forecasting. And the exploration of Mars can tell us a lot about Earth. But, there’s no unequivocal statement of support here for NASA’s Earth science work in and of itself, whether for environmental protection, climate change or anything else.

Bridenstine’s two statements about NASA continuing to study the home planet will be cited by his supporters of evidence of his desire to strongly support the agency’s Earth science program. However, when read within the context of the entire paragraph — as well as his own legislative actions and those of the Trump Administration — the statements indicate the programs could be significantly diminished.

Bridenstine said he is looking forward to serving as NASA administrator should he be confirmed by the Senate.

“Serving as NASA Administrator would challenge me to utilize the sum total of my experiences and knowledge to lead one of America’s most trusted and esteemed agencies,” he wrote. “NASA has an unsurpassed track record of achievement enabled by brilliant scientists and engineers, fearless astronauts, and exceptionally capable technology companies. Given that record, contemplating the possibility of contributing to NASA’s future success is both humbling and energizing. I can think of no higher honor in the service of my country than to lead NASA.”

Jim Bridenstine Statement
Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation

Selected Excerpts

Given the current mission, major programs, and major operational objectives of the department/agency to which you have been nominated, what in your background or employment experience do you believe affirmatively qualifies you for the appointment to the position to which you have been nominated, and why do you wish to serve in that position?

For three terms in Congress, have led comprehensive, bipartisan, space reforms with the objective of preserving America’s preeminence and global leadership in space. My legislative accomplishments were recognized by Space News when it named me as one of “Five Space Leaders Making a Difference’ in the world (http://spacenews.com/5-space-leaders-making-a-difference/). These efforts have led me to a deep understanding of the complex challenges NASA will face bringing together traditional space companies and new space entrepreneurs into a comprehensive NASA vision for both exploration and science. Traditional and new space companies are both critical to accelerating America’s space renaissance.

My committee assignments and subcommittee subcommittee chairmanship placed me in a position of responsibility for oversight of America’s civil, commercial, and national security space. NASA is an incredible leadership and soft power tool for the United States of America. With NASA’s global leadership, we will pioneer the solar system, sending humans back to the Moon, to Mars, and beyond. This requires a consistent, sustainable strategy for deep space exploration.

I am fully familiar with NASA’s role as a purchasing agent for NOAA and how critical this partnership is to protect lives and property. As a United States Representative from Oklahoma, I have led efforts to improve severe weather prediction and I have come to appreciate how complex Earth is as a system. NASA must continue studying our home planet. Unfortunately, Earth science sometimes gets pitted against planetary science for resources. This is not in the best interest of NASA, the United States, or the world. Mars once had a magnetic field, rivers, lakes, and an ocean on its north pole. At some point, Mars changed dramatically and we should strive to understand why. Studying other planets can inform our understanding of Earth. NASA must continue to advance both Earth science and planetary science for the benefit of mankind.

As the Executive Director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum & Planetarium, I saw children of all backgrounds benefit from NASA’s STEM education programs. NASA’s stunning achievement makes it uniquely situated to educate, inspire and motivate future generations of Americans.

As a Naval Aviator, I was entrusted by the U.S. Government to fly aircraft worth over $80 million off aircraft carriers and to conduct battlefield command and control of hardware worth billions of dollars while protecting and enabling thousands of warfighters. I have flown combat missions in Afghanistan and Iraq and instructed at the highest levels of Naval Aviation. As a Naval Reservist, I have conducted counter-drug missions in Central and South America. I understand the importance of team cohesion for mission accomplishment. Military aviation has given me first-hand experience with national security space-based capabilities including navigation, communication, weather, imagery, and associated networks and waveforms.

I have participated in simulation experiments with future warfighting technologies and determined requirements necessary to support and initiate acquisition programs. On behalf of the armed forces, I have developed requests for proposal and evaluated the corporate responses. I understand the complexity of large acquisitions and the legal necessity of managing them properly.

Serving as NASA Administrator would challenge me to utilize the sum total of my experiences and knowledge to lead one of America’s most trusted and esteemed agencies. NASA has an unsurpassed track record of achievement enabled by brilliant scientists and engineers, fearless astronauts, and exceptionally capable technology companies. Given that record, contemplating the possibility of contributing to NASA’s future success is both humbling and energizing. I can think of no higher honor in the service of my country than to lead NASA.

What do you believe to be the top three challenges facing the department/agency, and why?

I believe NASA’s top three challenges are:

  • Maintaining consistency and constancy of purpose while establishing a consensus agenda that can bridge multiple administrations regardless of party. This is essential to avoid resource-wasting program cancellations and maintains high morale both within the Agency and its contractor workforce;
  • Maintaining and building international partnerships while ending dependency on unfriendly nations to avoid exploitable vulnerabilities;
  • Bringing together traditional space companies and new space entrepreneurs into a comprehensive NASA vision to maximize resources and create efficiencies.

EXPERIENCE

Civil Space

Authored Numerous NASA Transition Authorization Act Provisions

  • Allowed the NASA Administrator to determine maximum probable loss for commercially provided launches and set the insurance requirements to that determination to reduce costs and increase flexibility
  • Called for a review of concepts and technologies for removing orbital debris
  • Required NASA to develop a post-ISS plan to avoid a gap in low Earth orbit platforms
  • Expressed Congress’ support for Venture Class Launch Services program to enhance the domestic launch industry

Coauthored the Bipartisan Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act

  • Authorized a space-based Commercial Weather Data Pilot Program within NOAA
  • Incorporated oversight mechanism on Future NOAA flagship satellite programs

Authored Numerous 2017 Omnibus Space Provisions

  • Encouraged NASA to develop plans to return to the Moon to test capabilities that will be needed to go to Mars including developing in situ resource utilization
  • Funded a space-based Commercial Weather Data Pilot Program within NOAA and DoD
  • Required NOAA to evaluate competitively purchased weather data as a potential follow on to the first tranche of COSMIC-2 satellites
  • Increased funding for FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation

Co-authored the bipartisan American Space Commerce and Free Enterprise Act (Passed Committee)

  • Provides a mechanism for the US Government to approve commercial remote sensing and private non-traditional space activities (human habitats, robotic servicing, lunar missions, and more) while meeting treaty obligations

Authorized Numerous 2018 CJS Appropriations Space Provisions (passed Committee)

  • Funds a demonstration for commercial lunar landers within NASA
  • Requires NASA to prioritize partnerships with American companies that can provided capabilities for deep space
  • Includes specific funding for Venture Class Launch Services
  • Continues funding for NOAA’s space-based Commercial Weather Data Pilot Program
  • Requires NOAA to comply with statutory deadlines for remote sensing licensing

Authored 2018 THUD Appropriations Provision to increase funding for the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation (Passed Committee)

Military Space

Authored Numerous 2017 National Defense Authorization Act Space Provisions

  • Authorized funding for Operationally Responsive Space to establish a program based on NASA’s Venture Class Launch Services
  • Encouraged Air Force to make greater use of commercially hosted payloads
  • Required a true apples-to-apples comparison of MILSATCOM and COMSATCOM in the wideband Analysis of Alternatives
  • Authorized the Protected Tactical Service SATCOM program
  • Authorized the SMC SATCOM Pathfinder program
  • Authorized and required implementation of commercial SATCOM pilot program within DoD
  • Authorized a space-based Commercial Weather Data Pilot program
  • Required analysis on leveraging commercial facilities for the Air Force Satellite Control Network

Authored Numerous 2018 NDAA Space Provisions (Pending Senate/House Conference)

  • Extends space-based Commercial Weather Data Pilot Program by one year
  • Encourages other transaction authorities (OTAs) for the SMC Pathfinder program
  • Creates capstone training event for space operators (Space Flag)
  • Directs development of space-based sensors for missile launch tracking and targeting
  • Supports National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) acquiring non-traditional sources of geospatial intelligence
  • Increases resources for a military operational capability for responsive launch, specifically for commercial small launch
  • Supports continued investment int he use of commercial capabilities to enhance resilience and lower costs of the Air Force Control Network
  • Encourages SecAF [secretary of Air Force] to operationalize extant commercial SAA capabilities to rapidly meet war-fighting requirements