President Donald Trump’s pick to leadNational Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is a climate skeptic — at least when it comes to climate change on our own planet.
In a questionnaire he submitted to the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, Oklahoma Republican Rep. Jim Bridenstine, the Congressman tapped to run NASA said that he wants the agency to look into climate change on Mars. It’s an idea mostly peddled mostly by climate skeptics.
“Mars once had a magnetic field, rivers, lakes, and an ocean on its north pole,” he wrote in the questionnaire, according to E&E News. “At some point, Mars changed dramatically, and we should strive to understand why. Studying other planets can inform our understanding of Earth.”
The theory that Mars is getting warmer alongside Earth goes like this: If the temperature on Mars is increasing too, then maybe a more powerful sun is responsible for terrestrial climate change. In fact, Bridenstine has already embraced the idea and blamed global warming on sun and ocean cycles. (Nearly all climate scientists, according NASA — which Bridenstine would lead if confirmed — agree that climate change is caused by human activities, not by the sun.)
In his questionnaire for the Senate, however, Bridenstine made clear that “NASA must continue studying our home planet” to better understand and predict weather patterns. He hasn’t clarified whether his position on man-made climate change has shifted.
As a freshman Congressman in 2013, Bridenstine has come under fire for his skepticism on climate change. He criticized President Barack Obama for funding NASA’s climate change research. And he’s a member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, where Republican lawmakers talked vague plans earlier this year to move all climate science out of NASA to another agency. Bridenstine, at the time, wouldn’t commit to keeping climate research at NASA, according to E&E News.
The head of NASA is usually a scientist, not a politician, and Bridenstine has faced some bipartisan opposition: Both Senators from Florida, Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Bill Nelson, criticized his nomination on the day it was announced.
Even so, Bridenstine has also garnered some key supporters in Congress as well as in the private space industry. As the U.S. space program has become increasingly privatized, the companies that stand to benefit from lucrative NASA contracts sees Bridenstine as a stellar choice.