For some, the message to new NASA administration is: Let’s get to work
By Tom Risen|April 19, 2018
Bridentstine's vocal support for industry appears to ease impact of controversies
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — In the hours before the U.S. Senate confirmed Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., as the next NASA administrator on a 50-to-49 vote, I took a few moments to ask Space Symposium attendees for their thoughts about the incoming administrator whose nomination was mired in controversy in the months since he was named.
In his handful of years in Congress, Bridenstine voiced strong doubts about climate change, vowed “to continue the fight for traditional marriage,” and voted against extending the protections of the Violence Against Women Act to same-sex couples. His promise to senators that he would ensure “equal opportunity among NASA employees” and his pledge to continue studying the climate did not seem to sway opponents.
The attendees I spoke to here said they were ready to move forward after all that, mainly because of what they see as his strong support for the U.S. industry and space exploration.
“We’re optimistic with his confirmation,” said Paul Welsh, vice president of business development at Pennsylvania-based aerospace software provider Analytical Graphics Inc., or AGI. “Congressman Bridenstine understands the value of commercial innovation, and companies outside of government can do a lot of things more effectively and more rapidly.”
Welsh said Bridenstine recognizes the importance of data processing and making satellite data available to provide earlier warning against natural disasters, including tornadoes in the congressman’s home state of Oklahoma.
“He has appreciation for the value of science and the value of technology, certain controversial things notwithstanding,” Welsh said.
Curt Bigelow, managing director of strategy consulting at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Denver, was hopeful that the confirmation will mean continued solid funding for human space exploration.
“We need science and technology and excitement in space to keep America the leaders in engineering, science and math, and we do that with space exploration,” said Bigelow, who once worked on the Titan rocket program. “I don’t care who is in there. I think he understands the importance of space. I think he’s going to get the funding and everything headed in the right direction.”
Rich Pang, head of government product development for SES Networks based in Virginia, said he’s had “very positive” interactions with Bridenstine, including discussions about government hosting instruments on commercial satellites, also known as hosted payloads.
“We’ve had at least four government payloads on our company’s satellites, and Congressman Bridenstine has been very supportive of that model where governments can catch rides to save money,” Pang sid. “I think his nomination to NASA is a very positive thing for the industry as a whole.”
Encouraging U.S. companies to develop a space economy is a key focus of the Space Renaissance Act introduced in 2016 by Bridenstine, but which did not advance beyond the House subcommittee on space.