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

  • ThomasLMatula

    Funny, how Space Advocates would be dancing in the streets a year ago that a likely NASA Administrator wants to make expanding human presence throughout the Solar System NASA’s top job.

    But in today’s upside world they are more focused on his opinion on Earth observations missions that form only a small fraction (10%) of NASA’s budget.

    Exactly when did environmentalists hijack America’s space program? And how do Space Advocates take it back from them?

    And please spare me the lecture on NASA doing research on Earth’s atmosphere since it was created during the IGY. Yes it has, although the original focus WAS on weather, one of President Kennedy’s original five national space goals. The focus on climate research came later only after space potential for weather research was recognized.

    But that said, is it possibly time to out source it? Not necessary to NOAA but to commercial providers?

    There are a number of firms already in the remote sensing business that could do it. And unlike COTS/CCP, a core function NASA has already outsourced, they wouldn’t be starting from zero.

  • Douglas Messier

    A key issue with Trump and Bridenstine is that they represent the ascendancy of a political party captured by carbon interests that is not willing to take rapid global warming as a serious threat. Virtually every action taken by Trump on climate since he took office has reflected that from his FY 2018 budget to his appointments to the scrubbing of government websites of climate change data and information.

    The idea of shifting Earth science and climate research to NOAA has been around for a very long time. But, when you actually look at who is proposing these things, it’s folks like Dana Rohrabacher who does not believe in climate change. So, this is not coming from people who think NOAA could do a better job and want to provide the required funding. It’s coming from people who don’t want to fund it in the first place, don’t believe the data and analyses that result, and won’t commit to the changes that we need to make in how we use energy..That’s the concern with Trump and Bridenstine.

    Bridenstine has sponsored legislation to set up commercial weather data purchases. However, he’s been crystal clear that these data are supplemental to the satellites that NOAA launches and not a replacement to them.

    The same is likely true with climate research. They could make use of commercial assets, put instruments on private satellites. But you’re still going to need a vigorous program do things that are not commercially profitable. And there needs to be a commitment to doing something with the data.

  • IamGrimalkin

    Since climate usually defined as is the study of average weather over 30+ years, it is not possible for NASA to have a climate program. That being the case, I don’t think it’s really possible to say an organisation has a proper observational climate research program until it is 30 years old anyway, which in NASA’s case is in 1988.

  • ThomasLMatula

    True, but given that, what is the likelihood of any NASA Administrator being able to promote climate research funding?

    And if the next NASA Administrator is unable because of politics to promote climate research does it really matter what their opinions are on it?

  • Douglas Messier

    Therein lies the problem with this administration. There’s a group think that global warming is a hoax and anything Obama began must be reversed. In Bridenstine you have someone who is in lockstep with that.

    So you might be right that we won’t get a nominee who believes otherwise. It is up to Congress to resist this and preserve these programs. So far the Senate has rejected deep cuts in NASA Earth science but the House cut deeper.

    I think there’s weak causal relationship between NASA being stuck in LEO for 45 years and the agency spending 10 percent on Earth science. It’s not really the problem.

  • therealdmt

    Earth Science COTS could be a good idea — do more for less! However, I’m not sure that doing more is exactly what is wanted in this case.

    Also, I don’t know, but I suspect that the level of support the House and especially the Senate *have* shown for Earth Science missions despite professed antipathy for the same has a lot to do with federal money flowing into committee and subcommittee members’ districts to develop and build the satellites, run the missions, etc. An Earth Sci COTS would send less money to different districts, districts not currently represented on the relevant committees and subcommittees, so the idea may have little political viability.

    Still, if the original COTS, Commercial Crew and now maybe a Lunar COTS have all gotten going, it may be possible…

  • ThomasLMatula

    No, it’s not a distraction, but it may be on firmer ground if there are commercial firms involved since that means jobs for more Congress Critters in additional Districts.

    And of course that is probably why some of those cuts have restored by the Senate, not because of any strong belief in climate change but a belief in jobs in their states.

    Remember in Washington its about money first, last and always 🙂

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    There’s a difference between changing emphasis and closing down instruments, shutting down access to data, and shutting down threads of scientific inquiry to fit a political agenda. To you a Trump’et I would ask …. Do you think this guy can really pull off this change in direction you desire? Given how well things are going in his administration and how he’s running his administration in such a self centered manner, do you really want any space policy to be linked to him? I don’t know about you, but the human spaceflight advocate in me lives in fear that the subject is going to get lip service, get linked to Trump, receive no dollars or political support, then after he’s gone will drag under the weight of his record of failure. You think the political left hates human space flight now, wait until after Trump tries to dress himself in a spacesuit.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    I think that’s a miscalculation. It’s like saying the politics of reverence for the Kim’s has no effect on NORK politics and policy. To ignore politics, for good or for bad, is to ignore a very important variable set.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Actually you don’t have to wait, the left is already demonizing space and space advocates.

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/from-lucifers-hammer-to-newts-moon-base-to-donalds-wallthe-sci-fi-roots-of-the-far-right

    The Sci-Fi Roots of the Far Right—From ‘Lucifer’s Hammer’ to Newt’s Moon Base to Donald’s Wall

    David Auerbach

    09.17.17 1:00 AM ET

    And

    https://www.theringer.com/tech/2017/9/13/16302426/elon-musk-villain-hero

    The Great Elon Musk Debate

    Is he a techno-hero, ushering us closer to the future? Or is he a villain dragging us toward dystopia?

    by Alyssa Bereznak and Kate Knibbs
    Sep 13, 2017, 1:02pm EDT

    But then the left and environmentalists have been bashing space spending since Apollo so its nothing new.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Great reads. Thanks, I enjoyed those. You’re point is right about extreme lefties not liking space development. However there are a lot of not so extreme lefties who do like the idea of space travel. If you don’t think they exist consider every commentator on this blog who you consider a leftie yet back space development. They’re a minority for sure, however there’s a large pool of lefties who take enrichment from the results of the worlds space program, and esp the outlandish majority of it coming from the American space program. Don’t be a political sophomore and push those people away by wrapping Trump in a star spangled blanket. The other side to consider is your own side of conservatives who are attracted to the strong man persona of Trump. He’s starting to let them down, and the more he acts like Napolean from Animal Farm, he’ll push those people away, and if they see space development as being a Trump policy, they may not stand with space if Trump plucks the feathers out of his own chickens. After watching him since the 80’s, I have a strong feeling just such a set of events is coming.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Tell me, why do you think I am a Trump supporter?

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Well I’ll have to say this first. If I’m wrong, I’m sorry. I seem to remember you backing his candidacy during the election. And you def come across as a Ayn Rand type who finds no faults in capitalism and come across as a ‘greed is good’, and selfishness is virtue style Republican. If you are an Ayn Rand type, I think you suffer from a bit of hypocrisy as you seem to favor welfare for corporations but not for people. I’d place you more in the Gingrich camp, you don’t come across as a gawdy egoist like Trump. Feel free to correct me and tell me where my opinions on you should lie.

  • ThomasLMatula

    I didn’t vote for Trump but I believe in the American tradition of moving beyond the election and election politics when it’s over. Presidents are not gods but merely elected officials whose power is limited by Congress and the Constitution. I see no purpose in demonizing him or whining about past elections.

    I teach business administration and economics and so I look at economics as a science not a political philosophy like Ayn Rand. As a result I approach economics from the perspective of systems theory which explains the power of competition in creating technological progress. The term for the modern (21st Century) systems perspective is complexity economics. And I am not really sure how you could believe someone who thinks COTS/CCP are not a good model for space commerce could believe in corporate welfare.

    I also approach space commerce policy based on what historical research in economics has shown was successful in the past in creating the modern economy. Again, I see economics as a complex science not a political philosophy.

    And as long as we are on the topic I accepted the evidence for CO2 induced global warming in the 1970’s and as a result I supported the push for nuclear energy that environmentalists opposed for reasons not supported by science. CO2 levels would be much lower today if nuclear had replaced coal in the 1970’s. What I don’t support is the irrational gloom and doom on global warming you see today. I see it basically as a problem in civil engineering and land use management, not a political cause as many do.

  • Jeff2Space

    The problem is the lack of CATS (Cheap Access To Space), which was a topic on the old sci.space Usenet Newsgroup back in the late 1980’s. Some progress was made with DC-X/XA, but then NASA “screwed the pooch” by picking the X-33 proposal with *the* most cutting edge bells and whistles out of the three proposals. When X-33 failed, NASA then declared that we lacked the technology to do reusable SSTO. It came as no surprise to me that SLS is completely expendable and does *nothing* to provide CATS.

  • ThomasLMatula

    BTW here is the latest addition in the left’s war on space commerce, this one from Australia.

    http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=54090#.WcFVh8ZryvF

    An Interplanetary future favours the wealthy.
    Francine Crimmins |
    18 September 2017

    “Virgin isn’t alone in this endeavour. Tesla founder Elon Musk also has inter-planetary designs for the most affluent travellers in the world. The mission of his SpaceX project is to make humans a multi-planet species by building a self-sustaining city on Mars. Musk says: ‘SpaceX is dramatically reducing the cost of access to space, the first step in making life on Mars a reality in our lifetime.'”

    and

    “But how accessible is such a journey ever likely to be? As of 2016, only about a quarter of the world’s population has travelled on an airplane in their lifetime. That means that despite over one hundred years of commercial air travel, the luxury of flying from one place to another on the planet Earth — let alone to another planet — is out of reach for two billion people.”

    Note – if only a quarter of the world’s population has flown that would mean about 5.625 billion have never flown (7.5 billion X (1-.25).

    This is just a reminder that there are lots of folks out there that want to demonize space commerce and space development even when its privately funded. We could do a lot worst then have a Administrator that will help move both forward.

  • Tom Billings

    “Earth Science COTS could be a good idea — do more for less! However,
    I’m not sure that doing more is exactly what is wanted in this case.”

    Nor will it be much appreciated by either side in the debate, even if it just gets the data for less money. The sensor data is not what is unpopular. It is the interpretations that abound about catastrophic effects, by academics who get no more money if catastrophic effects are not presumed to be imminent.

  • Tom Billings

    “And there needs to be a commitment to doing something with the data.”

    Of course, that assumes that people wanting to do something are fit to decide what is done. Whether they are fit is the largest part of the dispute, and the denial of their own fitness after years spent seeking certification inside academia is what enrages so many.

  • Vladislaw

    who is this “the left”?

    I am in “the left” and do not believe that. Every person in “the left” I know does not believe that .. so can you narrow it down just a tad who the nameless faceless “the left” actually is?

    how about this AUTHOR believes X .. rather than assigning ONE person’s views as the view in totality of everyone.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Then I consider myself mostly wrong in some of what I said. 🙂 I appreciate your taking the time to explain your POV to me. It relieves me of some ignorance. I think our biggest disagreement would come from your belief that economics is a science. I don’t agree. I think ties to nature are weak, and that human ‘imagination’ is far too large a vector in the space with outlandish and chaotic variations in coefficients with cross talk to almost all other vectors in the space to construct a true basis set out of. If you asked me to sum it up, I’d say in economics you cannot construct a independent basis set that spans the set. As I get older and watch the world with a pretty good memory of the word starting circa 1974 I’ve become more to the idea that economics is a constantly changing system in which to exercise con jobs and steal from one another.