Congress voted to confirm Jim Bridenstine as administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), ending the record 15-month period the space agency went without a Senate-confirmed leader.
The Senate approved Bridenstine to head NASA in a party-line vote. Bridenstine’s nomination advanced on Wednesday after Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake changed his vote to end debate. Flake also cast the crucial vote to confirm Bridenstine on Thursday.
Bridenstine’s confirmation comes just in time as NASA’s Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot plans to step down at the end of April.
President Donald Trump nominated Bridenstine, an Oklahoma congressman, to head NASA in 2017, but heated opposition led by Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson stalled a confirmation vote. Nelson questioned Bridenstine’s qualifications for the job.
Democrats have seized on Bridenstine’s lack of a science degree and questioning of party dogma on man-made global warming as reasons he should not be confirmed. Bridenstine did serve as director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum before joining Congress.
Democrats also grilled Bridenstine on his social conservative beliefs about gay marriage — something seemingly unrelated to NASA.
“The NASA administrator should be a consummate space professional, that’s what this senator wants,” Nelson said ahead of the Senate’s Wednesday vote. “That space professional ought to be technically and scientifically competent, and a skilled executive.”
“What’s not right for NASA is an administrator who is politically divisive and who is not prepared to be the last in line to make that fateful decision on ‘Go’ or ‘No-Go’ for launch,” Nelson said.
However, Bridenstine faced opposition from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican. Rubio argued Bridenstine came with “political baggage” that could tarnish NASA’s reputation. Rubio came around at the last minute to support Bridenstine.
Trump has big plans for NASA. The president wants the space agency to focus more on exploration and less on Earth sciences, like climate modeling, that’s carried out by other agencies and government-funded groups.
In March, Trump said NASA is “bringing back that whole space flight” program and is sending “something very beautiful to Mars in the very near future.”
“We’re going to areas that nobody thought possible, certainly not this quickly, so we’re very proud,” Trump said.
Trump also signed an order in late 2017 directing NASA to resume exploration efforts for the moon and Mars. Part of that effort, is to once again put a man on the moon.
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