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Trump's Nominee To Be The Next Head Of NASA Prepares For Senate Hearing


Tomorrow, senators will get a chance to question President Trump's pick for the head of NASA. The nominee is Congressman Jim Bridenstine. He's a Republican from Oklahoma. NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce reports that some are questioning whether he's got the right stuff.

NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE, BYLINE: NASA puts astronauts in space, but it's also one of the top science agencies for studying climate. That's why some folks are concerned that Jim Bridenstine has made comments that reject the scientific consensus on global warming like these remarks before Congress a few years ago, when he said that temperature changes are linked to natural cycles of the sun and ocean.


JIM BRIDENSTINE: During the Medieval Warm Period from 800 to 1300 AD, long before cars, power plants or the Industrial Revolution, temperatures were warmer than today.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: But NASA's website says most of the current warming trend is, quote, "extremely likely to be the result of human activity" and is, quote, "proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented over decades to millennia." Senators are sure to ask about his views on climate change at tomorrow's nomination hearing. Marcia Smith is the editor of SpacePolicyOnline. She says Bridenstine is not a shoo-in for the job.

MARCIA SMITH: Mr. Bridenstine is the first politician to be nominated to be NASA administrator. And so some people find that very unusual. They think that NASA should not be politicized by having a politician running it.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Usually it's someone like an astronaut or an aerospace engineer. The choice of a politician has been criticized by both senators from Florida, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio. But Bridenstine has support from Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas as well as the commercial spaceflight industry. John Logsdon is a space historian with George Washington University. He says a sitting member of Congress has never become the head of NASA before. But on the other hand, many historians think the most successful NASA administrator ever was a guy named Jim Webb.

JOHN LOGSDON: Who was a North Carolina lawyer and an experienced Washington political type.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Bridenstine's background does include a stint as a Navy pilot, and he served as director of Tulsa's Air and Space Museum before being elected to Congress in 2012. He's focused on space issues during his time there.

LOGSDON: It's extremely interesting that Representative Bridenstine wants the job, has campaigned for the job, has prepared for the job, has done a lot of thinking.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Logsdon says what NASA's human spaceflight program needs is a better sense of long-term direction and focus, and Bridenstine is someone who's seen as gung ho about returning humans to the moon. Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nell Greenfieldboyce is a NPR science correspondent.