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Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) will be before a Senate Committee on Wednesday morning for his nomination to lead NASA. The Congressman is shown here on a Tea Party Patriots Tele Town Hall speaking about repealing the 16th Amendment & eliminating the IRS. Photo: Jim Bridenstine/Instagram

An Oklahoma Congressman picked to be the next NASA Administrator will be under scrutiny at a nomination hearing Wednesday.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) will be subject to the hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation at 10 a.m. – even as protest groups collect thousands of petition signatures urging the Senate to reject his candidacy.

Bridenstine is a veteran U.S. Navy combat pilot who worked as executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Planetarium before being elected to Congress for the first time in 2012.

He would be the 13th appointed leader of the space agency. The list of NASA previous administrators includes aerospace engineers, physicists, astronauts, and other scientists. None were elected officials. (Richard Truly, who led NASA from 1989 to 1992, was also a fighter pilot – but had also been an astronaut).

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

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.

Bridenstine wants to colonize the moon, foresees a new space race with China, and also doubts the theory of climate change.

“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, in an interview with Aerospace America this year. “So why do we fundamentally want to damage our economy even more when nobody else is willing to do the same thing?”

The climate change stance is what has prompted some opposition. A petition by the social activist network called CREDO has collected more than 132,000 signatures as of Tuesday, contending in strong language that Bridenstine is not qualified to head NASA.

“NASA must remain an independent scientific agency, and its critical Earth science missions must continue,” the petition states. “Reject Trump’s appointment of anti-science ideologue Rep. Jim Bridenstine for NASA head and insist on a scientist or another qualified individuals for the position.”

At least one member of the Committee holding the Wednesday hearing has expressed some skepticism about the candidacy of the Oklahoma Congressman.

“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, in a September statement to Politico.

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