Yesterday NASA finally got a new administrator. It had been the longest the space agency had gone without a permanent leader, and now we find ourselves relishing those days. Jim Bridenstine, an Oklahoma Republican representative, was confirmed in a Senate vote of 50-49 as the new NASA head.
The vote broke down on party lines — 50 Republicans in favor, 47 Democrats and two Independents opposed — and it’s easy to see why. Bridenstine is an outspoken homophobe who’s actively worked against marriage equality and discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community.
Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona was the deciding vote, and he reportedly took 45 minutes to decide. While Flake has been critical of Trump in the past, when it comes down to a vote, he generally votes along party lines.
What will a Jim Bridenstine NASA look like?
A Jim Bridenstine NASA is a relatively scary idea. Bridenstine has no scientific background. In fact, he’s a climate change denier like much of the Trump administration, claiming global temperatures stopped rising over 10 years ago.
If we even need to say it — he’s wrong.
Trump has also called for NASA to return to the moon rather than focus on getting to Mars. The administration also wants to pull NASA out of its payments to the International Space Station, proposing that private industry can provide solutions, despite the fact that no commercial services currently exist.
The scientific credentials of Jim Bridenstine only include him running the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Planetarium from 2008–2010. But under Bridenstine the museum lost a vast amount of money, some of which was funneled into the Rocket Racing League, a company co-owned by Bridenstine himself. Before Jim Bridenstine, the museum had run a surplus of $73,000; by the time he left in 2010, it was $308,000 in debt.
Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Florida and an astronaut himself, criticized Bridenstine’s appointment, saying, “The NASA administrator should be a consummate space professional … not a politician. More importantly, the administrator must be a leader who has the ability to bring us together to unite scientists and engineers and commercial space interests and policymakers and the public on a shared vision for future space exploration.”
Criticism of new NASA head Jim Bridenstine
In addition to Bridenstine’s lack of scientific credentials and mismanagement of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum, Bridenstine has also been criticized for making disparaging remarks about other politicians — including other Republicans.
Likewise, his homophobia has been an issue. Bridenstine was a sponsor of the Marriage Protection Act, a 2013 bill that would prevent courts from hearing cases related to bans on same-sex marriage. He’s also campaigned against the Boy Scouts allowing gay members and Obama-era guidances calling for the protection of transgender children from bullying. (The Trump administration rescinded the guidance.)
In response to these criticsms, Bridenstine said, “I want to make sure that NASA remains, as you said, apolitical.”
If there is a silver lining to Jim Bridenstine as the new NASA head, it’s that it gets him out of Congress, where he could vote in support of more homophobic legislation.