NASA

Thomas Keith Glennan, is a name you have probably never heard before, which is understandable. Dr. Glennan was an electrical engineer who dabbled in the new technology of sound motion pictures at Paramount and Samuel Goldwyn Studios, briefly worked for Vega Aircraft, and finally joined the Division of War Research at Columbia University in 1942… yeah that war. Yet, the real reason you should know the name is that in 1958 he was chosen by President Eisenhower as the first administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA for short. Since Dr. Glennan’s tenure the NASA Administrator position has been filled by scientists, engineers, and former astronauts. Last year, the Donald broke that mold and chose a politician for the position, Representative Jim Bridenstine, but he was never confirmed.

It has been over a year now and NASA is still without a permanent administrator -a post President Obama filled in less than six months- but this month, confirmation hearings are being held again in the Senate to fill the position. So, we ask, who is Jim Bridenstine, and is he a terrible person?

One Small Step…
Now, if you know anything about us here at The NYRD, you will know we are pretty big NASA buffs. We are in love with all things space, and rocketry, and hope for a bright future of mankind… yadda yadda. That is why we have been so closely following the news coming out of NASA and the Presidential administration. Earlier this month, after eight months of being in office, Trump finally nominated the man who would take the reigns of the world’s premiere space agency, and who would replace Charles Bolden, a US Marine Corp Major General, an accomplished astronaut, and the first African American to ever hold the position. So who did he choose? A Congressman from Oklahoma, who denies the existence of man made climate change… sigh…

Now, our initial knee-jerk reaction is to immediately hate Congressman Bridenstine, in much the same we initially hate any new flunky of the Orangeman-in-Chief. Both of Florida’s senators have already come out against the nomination, as well as a slew of other people, both inside and outside the NASA community. After all, Bridenstine has regularly criticized how much NASA and the previous Obama Administration spent on climate change research, and even sponsored a bill to cut climate change funding.

A Giant Leap…
Don’t get us wrong. The fact that he is a known climate denier is worrisome and a definite strike against Congressman Bridenstine. One of NASA’s biggest departments is the division of Earth Sciences which studies everything from weather patterns to ocean temperatures, and it roughly spends about 2 billion annually on the task of aiming satellites back at us, instead of into deep space. Trump has already dedicated himself to cutting that funding and minimizing that division, regardless of who the new administrator will be, and here is the kicker… Maybe… just maybe… he’s not completely wrong.

Now, let us be clear… climate change research is vital and important to the survival of our nation and humanity. We think the US government should be spending more than just 2 billion dollars on it annually, but maybe not NASA. NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration -who also been waiting on a confirmation for their new administrator– may be a more suitable agency to handle that research, and as a bonus it would help increase funding to the woefully underfunded NOAA. It would also free NASA to really start looking toward deep space exploration and how to finally get us that summer home on Olympus Mons. We know that this may not be a popular opinion, just as we also know it is unlikely to happen under the leadership of a President who often fails to have even the most basic grasp on science. As such, if given the option between NASA continuing to be our main climate science researchers and having no government climate science researchers, we will pick the former over the latter every time.

But what does this all have to do with Representative Big Jim Bridenstine?

A New Direction
Taking out the climate denying aspect of the man, you are left with someone who was a Navy combat pilot who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has also worked as the executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Planetarium… yes, The Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Planetarium. His is also a big space advocate, with a real focus on commercial space enterprises, and like it or not, that is the direction of space enterprise in the 21st century. Private space companies, like Boeing and Space X, are taking over the near-Earth orbit market, and NASA needs to work hand-in-hand with them going forward.

NASA has already committed to the creation of a NEO commercial space industry, but now it also looks like the private sector is looking to get involved with deeper space projects, as well, such as designing a new lunar lander, capturing an asteroid for mining purposes, and even going to Mars, if Elon Musk has his way. Bridenstine certainly seems to have the enthusiasm for the task. He created the American Space Renaissance Act, which has its heart in the right place. He’s spoke out against space junk and its determent to our continued space endeavors. He is also a big advocate for the Moon – a priority target for Trump– for both commercial and civil purposes, even going so far as claiming that the discovery of water ice means we should look into permanent rover and machine outposts. So, maybe in this new era of space exploration, it is not such a bad thing that the new Administrator of NASA is not a scientist or an engineer, but an enthusiast committed to the cause who knows how to navigate the political spectrum of things…

All of this would be very encouraging, if it was not for his climate denial. Climate change is not a theory or a political opinion. It has been established by solid scientific fact, and if Bridenstine denies those basic truths, that is worrying on a lot of levels. Still, maybe it is not for the head of NASA to worry about climate change. Congressman “Damnit” Jim Bridenstine is not perfect. There are some glimmers of hope on his resume, but -let’s be clear- he is not the person we would have selected to be the head of NASA. He is not James Webb, or Charles Bolden, or even Bill Nye, but maybe in this era of Donald Trump, “good enough,” is the best we can hope for… sigh…