Trump's pick for head of NASA is an insult to science and progress

Credit: India Price/Editor-in-Chief Credit: India Price/Editor-in-Chief
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The National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA) is a dream-maker — an inspiration for children to go into the sciences and a professional aspiration for students and adults in the sciences. It has been the cornerstone of a number of momentous leaps in scientific progress, both in the history of our nation and in the world. From the moon landing to research on the Big Bang, NASA forefronts developments in aerospace science and collaborates with a number of other nations and international organizations.

For an organization as important as NASA, surely the President, who is entrusted with the duty of appointing an administrator, would want it to be headed by someone who can embody all those advances that it has made and will make, who can stand for the name of science and pushing boundaries. As many of us have seen, however, the Trump administration has made many decisions that are anything but expected (which, in its own way, may not be so surprising).

President Donald Trump has recently made the move of nominating Congressman Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) for NASA’s next administrator. It would be certainly unfair to immediately draw the conclusion that Bridenstine is unqualified at first glance, for Bridenstine is not without political experience nor administrative experience. In fact, he has been a director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Planetarium in the past, along with his career as a politician.

And yet eyebrows are raised, however, after a careful scrutiny of some of his positions and viewpoints. First and foremost, he is a climate change denier. For someone in such a position of power, especially over a major scientific organization that spends a significant amount of its budget on climate research, to deny a stance that has achieved almost unanimous scientific consensus relays a poignant message, and that message is not one that our nation should be proud to relay.

It is not often in recent history that scientists reach such an overwhelming, universal consensus on a viewpoint, but when it does happen, as is the case with climate change, others should listen. Instead, Bridenstine ignores the overwhelming evidence and research against his perspective and clouds science with politics.

Research, space exploration, climate change — these should not be tarnished with ulterior motives or agendas by politicians. They are about satiating an innate human curiosity present in all of us, not about attempting to create discordant feelings within the nation by blaming climate change as a hoax created by the Chinese, or about furthering corporate interest by cutting down on environmental protections.

Politics should not play as large a role in science and the environment as it currently does, and by nominating Bridenstine, President Trump has allowed his own personal agenda to infiltrate science once again.

Furthermore, the appointed administrator is as much a leader of NASA as a figurehead and symbol. Bridenstine’s reputation and potential actions will be important in determining how we, as a nation, are to be perceived by foreign as well as domestic powers. We will be, if we aren’t already, laughingstocks of the world should we appoint to the scientific stage someone who vocally and falsely claimed on the floor of Congress that global temperatures stopped rising 10 years ago.

So then what implications would all of this hold for the future of NASA as an organization? No doubt, the budget on climate research would be curtailed. While Bridenstine also does seem invested in space exploration, his reasons for it lie in the commercial side, for example, citing his desire for further lunar expeditions as a means of exploiting the moon’s resources.

There is a chance, of course, that my evaluation of Bridenstine as a person and as a political figure is completely off the mark, that he might turn out to be a good fit for the job, someone who will change NASA for the better. There is a much larger chance, however, that we have valid reasons to be concerned, judging by his statements and stances — and by Trump’s propensity for continuously nominating unfit candidates for national offices.

Only time will tell, but if nothing else, at least Trump has consistency.