President Donald Trump has signaled he will be choosing Oklahoma Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R) to be his choice to lead U.S. space exploration.
The White House announced the intention Friday, ahead of the Labor Day weekend. Bridenstine, 42, had been rumored to be the President’s pick since before the inauguration.
NASA has been under the temporary direction on of Robert Lightfoot since the former director, Charles Bolden, stepped down in January.
“I am pleased to have Rep. Bridenstine nominated to lead our team,” Lightfoot wrote in a statement after the presidential nod. “Of course, the nomination must go through the Senate confirmation process, but I look forward to ensuring a smooth transition and sharing the great work the NASA team is doing.”
Bridenstine has been a long-time supporter of U.S. space operations. In 2016, he authored the American Space Renaissance Act which would have made sweeping changes to space exploration and management. The bill has stalled in Congress.
He is also a supporter of federal partnership with private businesses, like Elon Musk's SpaceX, to continue exploration on Mars as well as the possible installation of a permanent lunar presence with the ability to refuel spacecraft.
His nomination garnered praise from both Oklahoma senators.
Sen. James Lankford gave his support writing in a statement Bridenstine's background with space exploration "coupled with his commitment to fiscal responsibility make him an excellent choice..."
Senator Jim Inhofe wrote in a statement, "Bridenstine's lifelong passion for space, combined with his work in Congress on modernizing our nation's space program will serve him well at NASA.”
The congressman’s pick is not coming without criticism however. In the past, he has been skeptical of the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is man-made. NASA is one of a few US agencies charged with tracking global climate data.
“[G]lobal temperatures stopped rising 10 years ago. Global temperature changes, when they exist, correlate with Sun output and ocean cycles,” he said in a speech on the House floor in 2013.
His nomination is also garnering political criticism. Both of Florida’s Sens. Marco Rubio (R) and Bill Nelson (D) told Politico, they share concerns about the politics behind the congressman’s nomination and the effects a Bridenstine-led NASA could have on the sunshine state, home to Cape Canaveral.
“[T]he head of NASA ought to be a space professional, not a politician,” Nelson told the magazine.
Rubio laid out his criticism in equally stark terms writing in a short statement, “I just think it could be devastating for the space program.”
Bridenstine has not signaled whether he will accept the nomination officially, however he has said in the past he wants the job.
NASA administrators must be confirmed by the Senate. So far, no confirmation hearings have been scheduled.