Has Trump Sent a Science Denier to Head NASA?

September 2, 2017

Waiting for the Friday-before-Labor-day news dump might have seemed like a good idea till Harvey showed up.

FYI, Climate Hawks has a petition drive against this appointment.

USA Today:

WASHINGTON — Jim Bridenstine, the Oklahoma Republican congressman President Trump tapped late Friday as NASA’s next administrator, is someone who champions commercial access to space, thinks a return to the moon is vital to U.S. strategic interests, and has dismissed the science behind climate change.

If the Senate confirms the 42-year-old former Navy flier, he would be the first elected politician to hold a job that’s been the purview of scientists, engineers and astronauts.

Bridenstine, who sits on the House Science, Space and Technology and the Armed Services committees, doesn’t have a formal science background. His last job before being elected to represent Oklahoma’s 1st District in 2012 was as executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum & Planetarium.

Tulsa Today:

It is Bridenstine’s 21-month stint as the executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum that is at issue and an official statement from Board Chairman Barbara Smallwood was distributed that begins, “The Tulsa Air and Space Museum is neither for nor against any candidate in any election.”

“While at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum, Jim Bridenstine developed the QuikTrip Air and Rocket Racing Show and the Land the Shuttle Campaign, both of which garnered tremendous visibility for the Tulsa Air and Space Museum. While Mr. Bridenstine was executive director attendance increased at the museum. In August 2010 Mr. Bridenstine voluntarily resigned from his position as Executive Director at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum in order to follow his orders in the Navy Reserves. “

In direct response TASM board member James E. Bertelsmeyer, released the following:

“As a longtime supporter of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum (TASM), it is my opinion that the best day for the museum was the day that Jim Bridenstine left.

“While these issues have since been corrected by his successor, during Jim’s tenure at TASM, as I recall, the membership numbers were down, employee and volunteer morale was very low and the finances and certainly the financial reporting were arguably the worst they had been in recent years.

“While I respect Jim’s service to our Country as an aviator, I can’t imagine how he is qualified to run a Congressional District if, in my judgment, he can’t effectively manage our Air and Space Museum,” Bertelsmeyer wrote.

The planetarium at TASM is named after Bertelsmeyer.

On the Issues:

Q: Do you believe that human activity is contributing to climate change?

A: No. The Earth’s climate has always varied substantially as demonstrated by pre-industrial human records and natural evidence. There is no doubt that human activity can change local conditions, but on a global scale natural processes including variations in solar output and ocean currents control climatic conditions. There is no credible scientific evidence that greenhouse gas atmospheric concentrations, including carbon dioxide, affect global climate. I oppose regulating greenhouse gases. Doing so will significantly increase energy prices and keep more people in poverty.



In the Senate, Bridenstine will likely face stiff opposition from Democrats, in particular for climate-contrarian comments he made in 2013, during his first term in House, while lobbying for additional support for weather research. “Mr. Speaker, global temperatures stopped rising 10 years ago,” he said. “Global temperature changes, when they exist, correlate with Sun output and ocean cycles.”

Bridenstine has not made many similar remarks since, but this comment will likely draw attention during his upcoming confirmation hearings. “He probably regrets the way he said it,” says Kelvin Droegemeier, vice president for research at the University of Oklahoma, who worked with Bridenstine for several years crafting parts of a weather-research bill that became law this past spring. “He’d probably say it differently today.”

So far, while the Trump administration has proposed stiff cuts to earth science at NASA, the Senate has warded those off. Droegemeier does not expect Bridenstine to support slashing the agency’s budget, especially given much of NASA’s mission can be framed in terms of collecting data that’s as applicable to understanding weather patterns as to understanding climate change. “He won’t come in and say we’re going to discontinue climate financing and take earth science and trash it,” Droegemeier predicts. “He absolutely believes the planet is warming, that [carbon dioxide] is a greenhouse gas, and that it contributes to warming.”

Bridenstine is not a slam dunk, he has drawn some opposition from the Republican side, including Florida’s Marco Rubio.


The White House announced President Donald Trump’s preferred pick to head NASA on Friday night, but the choice is already proving unpopular, with Florida senators criticizing Trump’s choice.

The man nominated is Oklahoma congressman Jim Bridenstine, who would become the 13th administrator of the national space agency upon Senate approval. The role’s responsibilities include serving as senior space science adviser to the president, leading the agency and managing its resources.

However, Republican senator Marco Rubio and Democrat Bill Nelson, both of Florida, home to NASA’s space center at Cape Canaveral, have criticized the appoinment of someone political and with a perceived lack of experience.

..unlike previous NASA administrators, the 42-year-old Michigan native does not have any formal qualifications in science or engineering, having earned a triple bachelor’s degree in economics, psychology and business from Rice University, and later an MBA from Cornell University.

The Congressman says he has business experience in real estate, ranching, aerospace, and defense contracting. According to Ars Technica, who first tipped Bridestine for the position in August, the congressman is popular among commercial space companies as he supports an increased privatization of U.S. civil and military space activities.

Bridenstine was a strong supporter of Trump’s presidency and was interviewed for the second time for the role in April, as he confirmed to an Oklahoma publication. But Rubio said he is worried the nomination has more to do with politics than competence.

“I just think it could be devastating for the space program. Obviously, being from Florida, I’m very sensitive to anything that slows up NASA and its mission,” Rubio told Politico.

“It’s the one federal mission which has largely been free of politics and it’s at a critical juncture in its history,” Rubio said. “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.”

Democrat Senator Nelson echoed Rubio’s concerns. “The head of NASA ought to be a space professional, not a politician,” he said in a written statement to Politico.

Explaining his interest in space in February at the Commercial Space Transportation Conference in Washington, Bridenstine said: “People often say, ‘Why are you so involved in space issues? You don’t have any space interests in Oklahoma.’ You bet I do. My constituents get killed in tornadoes.”


Above, convective storms in Hurricane Harvey as imaged by NASA.

Bridenstine’s concern regarding extremee weather phenomena does not extend to climate change. In a speech on the House floor in 2013, he bashed then-President Barack Obama for spending “30 times as much money on global warming research as he does on weather forecasting and warning,” exaggerating the discrepancy, as Polifact verified.

Marshall Shepherd, former President of the American Meteorological Society,  sounds a hopeful note in Forbes:

Bridenstine has been criticized for past statements related to federal spending on climate research. While I suspect this will be rightly fleshed out more in confirmation, my sense is that the Congressman is pragmatic. The realities of serving a state constituency are very different than leading an agency that is depended upon as a world leader in enabling Earth observations and modeling capabilities.  I also find it cool that the Congressman can talk phased-array radar with the best of them. I had the opportunity to talk with him on the phone in the past about some of these topics.


3 Responses to “Has Trump Sent a Science Denier to Head NASA?”

  1. webej Says:

    Concentrations of greenhouse gasses make no difference to climate. That’s why earth’s climate is almost identical to that of the moon. It also seems evident that ocean currents and temperature are much more important than any supposed global warming, because ocean currents and warming are obviously caused by what’s on the jolly green giant’s menu. I’m sure there are no more competent leaders to be found, especially for NASA — I mean it’s not exactly rocket science.

  2. danialcblog Says:

    NASA’s motto in 2018

    “Aim low and miss.”

  3. Gingerbaker Says:

    The folks at NASA are highly qualified, dedicated scientists. Nobody Trump has nominated for any cabinet position is qualified to even shine their shoes.

    Because the nominees and the Republicans and Trump are anarchists. They want to destroy the government and now have the ability to do it from the inside. They must be resisted from the inside – it’s the only ethical thing to do.

    I wonder if everyone at NASA simply ignored this guy completely if he would even notice.

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