Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Oklahoma has picked up and important endorsement for his nomination as NASA Administrator. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, the chair of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Justice and Space tweeted, “Met w/ @POTUS nom for @NASA Administrator, Jim Bridenstine. We had a good meeting. I look forward to supporting him throughout this process.”

Why Shelby’s support is significant

Shelby is not a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce and Science which must confirm Bridenstine’s nomination for the administrator of NASA. However, he exercises an outsized influence on space policy due to being the senior senator from a state with the NASA Marshall Spaceflight Center.

Shelby has been extremely protective of NASA programs that benefit his state, especially the heavy-lift space launch system. Shelby has been a skeptic of commercial space, a stance that will no doubt be softened by the impending construction of a rocket engine assembly facility near Huntsville, Alabama by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin.

How did Bridenstine sell himself to Shelby?

This is where Bridenstine being a politician, a problem for some people comes into play. He knows that Shelby may support space for the benefit it brings the United States, but that primarily means Alabama. He, no doubt, has assurances that the Space Launch System will play a crucial role in plans he has championed for a return to the moon, even as commercial companies are being brought in as partners for NASA’s endeavors.

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Recently Bridenstine listed three principles for how he sees the space agency being run under his helm. The first one stated, in part, “Maintaining consistency and constancy of purpose while establishing a consensus agenda that can bridge multiple administrations regardless of party. This is essential to avoid resource-wasting program cancellations and maintain high morale both within the Agency and its contractor workforce.” The statement is an explicit reference to how President Barack Obama canceled the Constellation program, many people believe out of political pique. Shelby had been especially angered by the decision. The move to mandate the Space Launch System, which some detractors call the “Senate Launch System,” was in reaction to the decision to end Constellation.

Shelby is also, no doubt, attracted to Bridenstine’s focus on the moon instead of Mars as a near-term destination for Americans. The so-called “Journey to Mars” program was seen as a sham by most people, even inside NASA.

The exploration of the moon can start almost immediately, likely with commercial landers. NASA will prosper, and therefore the Marshall Spaceflight Center will benefit.

What happens now?

The Senate Commerce and Science Committee will hold hearings as early as the last week in September. Sen Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who chairs the subcommittee that oversees NASA is firmly in Bridenstine’s corner. However, the ranking member of the committee, Sen Bill Nelson, D-Florida, has expressed reservations, largely because of Bridenstine’s status as a politician.

Bridenstine has drawn some outside opposition partly because of his skepticism toward climate change, though he has moved to moderate his views on the issue. He has also drawn some fire from the LGBT community for his past opposition to same-sex marriage and his support for so-called “bathroom” legislation that would mandate the people use the same public bathroom to aligns with their biological gender.

However, Bridenstine enjoys considerable support from both the commercial space and scientific communities. With Shelby, representing more traditional NASA supporters, now in his corner, the gentleman from Oklahoma is now considered all but a shoe-in to be confirmed. It can be hoped that Bridenstine can be confirmed quickly so that he can start turning the space agency around.