As has been expected for months and reported in the media for weeks, President Donald Trump announced his intention to nominate Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Oklahoma to become the next NASA Administrator. While the move is likely to be cheered by most supporters of America’s space effort, both conducted by the space agency and commercial companies, Florida’s two United States senators are not so sure.

Bill Nelson: NASA chief should not be a ‘politician’

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, declared that “The head of NASA ought to be a space professional, not a politician.” The statement is a curious one.

To be sure Bridenstine is the first elected official to be nominated to head up the space agency. However, two of the most successful NASA Administrators, James Webb and Sean O’Keefe, were from outside the aerospace community. Webb was nominated by President John F. Kennedy and shepherded NASA during much of the Apollo program. Sean O’Keefe was President George W. Bush’s space agency chief who enacted much needed financial reforms at the space agency.

The real reason Nelson may be having heartburn about Bridenstine is, besides being a partisan Democrat, the senior senator from Florida is an advocate for sending astronauts directly to Mars. Bridenstine champions a return to the moon first, in line with current thinking at the Trump administration.

Rubio ‘shares concerns’

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida “shares concerns” with Bridenstine’s “political baggage.” That baggage may include the fact that Bridenstine had been a supporter of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas during the presidential campaign and had said some unkind things about Rubio and his stance on immigration. Rubio has denied that is a consideration for his concerns.

Ted Cruz supports

On the other hand, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, expressed his warm support for Bridenstine. He noted that the Oklahoma congressman was not only a leader and an ally but a “dear friend.”

What happens now?

Trump is expected to officially announce his nomination of Bridenstine as early as the day after Labor Day.

The nomination then goes to the Senate Commerce Committee. In the meantime, Bridenstine will be going to members of the committee to discuss his qualifications and views on space policy. It should be noted that neither Nelson nor Rubio have committed to opposing Bridenstine or voting against him, suggesting that they want something from him in return for their support. What that something might be will be discussed behind closed doors before the confirmation hearings commence, which should be soon in order to give NASA new leadership.