Congressman Jim Bridenstine

A Republican Congressman who wants to colonize the moon, envisions a new space race with China – and who doubts the theory of climate change – is President Donald Trump’s pick to lead NASA.

Rep. James Bridenstine, who has been in office since 2012, is a veteran U.S. Navy combat pilot who worked as executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Planetarium. The congressman will have to be confirmed by the Senate.

The list of NASA administrators appointed by presidents from both parties includes aerospace engineers, physicists, astronauts, and other scientists. (Richard Truly, who led NASA from 1989 to 1992, was also a fighter pilot – but had also been an astronaut). None were elected officials.

Bridenstine, who is on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, has pushed numerous space-focused bills in his terms. One of those bills would extend the length of the NASA chief position he is now seeking.

Last year, he outlined some of his vision for American space exploration, in a talk before the Lunar Exploration Group the day before Trump was elected.

Commercial space exploration will drive innovation, he told the group. Space junk is a vital concern to satellites and other technologies requiring mastery of Earth orbit, he added. The path to these goals is to continue to colonize the moon and its resources – which should have been capitalized upon when lunar water ice was discovered.

“The United States of America is the only nation that can protect space for the free world and responsible entities, and preserve space for generations to come,” he said in his talk. “This is our Sputnik moment. America must forever be the preeminent spacefaring nation and the moon is a path to being so.”

Bridenstine has also publicly expressed doubt on the theory of climate change, saying that while climate is changing, there is no proof that it is anthropogenic, or human-caused. He told Aerospace America in an interview last year that he had “absolutely no problem studying the climate.” But he added that the American carbon footprint is relatively small compared to that of China, Russia and India.

“The United States does not have a big enough carbon footprint to make a difference when you’ve got all these other polluters out there,” the congressman said. “So why do we fundamentally want to damage our economy even more when nobody else is willing to do the same thing?”

Bridenstein majored in economics, business and psychology at Rice University, and has an MBA from Cornell University.

The current NASA acting administrator released a short statement in response to news of the nomination.

“I am pleased to have Rep. Bridenstine nominate to lead our team,” said Robert Lightfoot, who has been with NASA since 1989 as an engineer, administrator and leader of propulsion, space shuttles, and other roles. “Of course, the nomination must go through the Senate confirmation process, but I look forward to ensuring a smooth transition and sharing the great work the NASA team is doing.”

Bridenstine has received support from the Commercial Spaceflight Federation and some key Republicans. But some others have voiced concerns.

“The head of NASA ought to be a space professional, not a politician,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which will hold the confirmation hearings, in a statement to Politico.