NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine had his first congressional hearing before the Senate subcommittee that funds the space agency. He discussed various aspects of the NASA budget that the subcommittee is due to mark up, including the lunar exploration initiative and the troubled James Webb Space Telescope. However, the most critical exchange came with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii on the subject of climate change.

Climate change is real, and people are causing it

Bridenstine, during the confirmation hearings, had received considerable flak about a statement he had made as a congressman on the House floor casting doubt on the idea of human-caused climate change.

He indicated during the hearings that his views had evolved since then. Even so, not one Democratic senator voted in favor of Bridenstine’s confirmation.

Under questioning by Sen. Schatz, the NASA administrator reiterated his current views. Yes, he believes that climate change is real and that people are causing it. He did, however, mention that NASA is not a regulatory agency, a signal that he was not prepared to answer policy questions about what should be done about the problem. Schatz seemed to be impressed.

The Bridenstine communications style

Bridenstine has come to be head of NASA with the problem of winning over Democratic lawmakers, many of whom looked upon his appointment with considerable skepticism.

The change of opinion on climate change is without a doubt sincere, but also it has a strategic element. Bridenstine knows that he needs bi-partisan support to sustain the return to the moon program. By mollifying Senate Democrats about climate change, the NASA chief will be more likely to get that support for sending Americans back to the moon, a vital part of the Trump space strategy.

Bridenstine has also demonstrated some communications skills that have been formed by his experience as an elected official. He answered the subcommittee’s questions directly and without hesitation, maintaining eye contact. He did not refer to notes nor did he have a staffer whispering answers in his ear. The style was refreshing coming from a witness to a congressional hearing.

Bridenstine also has an active Twitter account which he uses to make announcements of the current goings-on at NASA. Journalists and other people who follow the space program have found the tweets to be informative and timely. In this way, Bridenstine is building up considerable goodwill among the media and the general public.

The success or failure of the president’s moon initiative has still to be written. However, Administrator Bridenstine is off to a great start thanks to his efforts to communicate what is happening at NASA in a way that is easy to understand.