Last week, after being nominated by President Donald J. Trump over seven months ago, Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) finally received confirmation from the United States Senate to lead the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Bridenstine served on both the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, which authorizes NASA and NOAA activities, and the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), which oversees defense programs.
As a scientist and NASA enthusiast, I have high hopes for this former military pilot and Freedom Caucus member’s tenure at the agency. As long as he sticks to the principles he stood up while in Congress, Bridenstine will convert NASA from being a tool to advance the Obama administration’s promotion of social justice and catastrophic man-made warming science into the space exploration agency it was originally created to be.
The birth of NASA occurred in 1958, at the height of the Cold War, soon after the Soviet Union beat out the United States in the space race by launching Sputnik 1, the world’s first satellite. The launch of Sputnik provided the illusion of a looming technology gap in space and high atmosphere science and provided the impetus for the creation of NASA, leading to hugely increased spending and an explosion of research activity in the sector.
John F. Kennedy’s Rice University speech in 1961 set the tone and provided the inspiration for NASA to achieve greatness despite the obstacles.
Over the next 40-plus years, NASA completed enormously complex missions including human spaceflight, robotic missions to the far reaches of our solar system, the launch of remote sensing, and communication satellites. NASA oversaw significant advancements in the science and technology of aeronautics and space exploration science, setting a very high bar for other government scientific entities to emulate. The success of NASA was a testament to American exceptionalism and affirmed its status as the lone world superpower.
Unfortunately for NASA, things changed drastically, and for the worse, with the appointments of left-leaning administrators to head the organization by the newly installed Obama administration in 2009.
These leaders prioritized climate science and Silicon Valley launch experiments over America’s security and national defense.
Early in 2010, Obama cut the legs out from under America’s plans for future space exploration with the cancellation of critical rocket programs including the Constellation program, which was the backbone of planned future journeys to the Moon and Mars. Although Congress rebelled in a bipartisan manner against this by partially restoring some funding, the future of the space exploration program was critically wounded.
At the same time, newly installed NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told the Al-Jazeera network that President Obama had charged him as head of NASA with three things:
One, he wanted me to help re-inspire children to want to get into science and math; he wanted me to expand our international relationships; and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math and engineering.
Nowhere in this directive was there anything resembling NASA’s original objectives. Heath and Human Services’, possibly, but not NASA.
Thankfully, these days of NASA’s politically driven climate science and social justice activism appear to be over. There’s finally a new sheriff in town.
Returning NASA to its core science and technology objectives appears to be Administrator Bridenstine’s paramount objective. In 2016, he proposed the American Space Renaissance Act (ASRA), which was intended to restrict some of NASA’s unnecessary, science-heavy institutional objectives and to replace them with three new ones centered around human spaceflight — a strategy he dubbed the Pioneering Doctrine.
The timing of Bridenstine’s confirmation is fortunate. A heightened sense of urgency for a return to space dominance is recognized with recent measures that were taken in advancing their rocket and space technologies by countries like China. No time is better than now for NASA’s focus to shift to its original core mission along with its application for our space defense forces.
The only possible major roadblock to Bridenstine’s success at the helm could be an attempt by NASA to achieve their new leader’s plan with the new technology and rockets that the Obama administration recklessly rigged the deck to favor. However, given Bridenstine’s conservative credentials and firsthand experience in the Navy, that is unlikely to be the case.
As a former member of the Freedom Caucus, Bridenstine is ostensibly as enthused as I am over the recent influx of competition in the aerospace industry. But just because there are more options on the table does not mean that they must all receive equal playing time.
For example, SpaceX is valuable and steadily increasing in its capabilities every year — but it still is far from ready to fly astronauts. This January, NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel took issue with the company’s helium tanks, which it believes had something to do with its 2016 rocket explosion, as well as its “load and go” fueling strategy. The Department of Defense also found that the company has 50 percent more major nonconformities with quality management standards than its leading competitors.
Overusing contractors like this one, which just raised its prices by 50 percent and has wasted hundreds of millions of government money on failed launches, would bring tight NASA budgets under further stress, put the success of the Pioneer Doctrine in a vulnerable state, and possibly even risk human lives — points that Bridenstine is likely already cognizant of.
Even in a worst-case scenario, though, Bridenstine’s confirmation will still unquestionably mark an important step forward for NASA.
Given the current threats in space from China and Russia, it’s clear that he is the right leader at the right time — something that even his partisan detractors will come to learn in no time at all as we begin restoring the greatness of a once-proud NASA, all while we reach for the Moon, Mars, and beyond.
Gregory Wrightstone, is author of the new book, “Inconvenient Facts: The Science That Al Gore Doesn’t Want You To Know.” Wrightstone is a geologist with more than 35 years of experience researching and studying various aspects of the Earth’s processes. He is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Geological Society of America.