The president's pick for NASA administrator, Oklahoma congressman Jim Bridenstine, hasn't been without his share of controversy. He doesn't have much technical experience and his politics and views on climate change could put a wrench in his Senate confirmation hearing, which could be as early as next week. But where will NASA go under Bridenstine's leadership? The congressman submitted a pre-hearing questionnaire that gives us a few clues.
Specifically, Bridenstine was asked, "What do you believe to be the top three challenges facing the department/agency, and why?" His answers reveal what his priorities for the agencies could be.
According to the congressman, the agency's top challenge concerns navigating politics. Specifically, Bridenstine wants to see NASA set goals for itself that aren't dependent on which party is in office or the whims of Congress. He wants priorities and projects that have support across both sides of the aisle. One of the major issues the agency constantly faces is when a program that is supported by one administration is cancelled by the next. It leads to a lot of waste, both in resources and money. While this is a good goal to have (it's a widely acknowledged and very frustrating problem), it makes me question how ambitious the agency will be under Bridenstine's leadership. It also gives me pause that his top challenge for the agency is a political one.
Bridenstine's second challenge is in regard to our international partnerships. Specifically, he wants to develop more of them but also "end . . . dependency on unfriendly nations to avoid exploitable vulnerabilities." It's not difficult to tell which country he's referring to. Currently, we're dependent on Russia to ferry our astronauts to and from the International Space Station. These types of ties are crucial to maintaining peace and stability between our countries.
Finally, Bridenstine's last challenge for NASA is to work with both traditional space companies as well as new ones "to maximize resources and create efficiencies." This signals that he's open to working with all kinds of commercial spaceflight companies, both new and old, in order to reach NASA's goals. But he's been a supporter of this in the past, so that's not a surprise.