(Richard Truly, who led NASA from 1989 to 1992, was also a fighter pilot - but had also been an astronaut).
No president has ever nominated a politician to lead NASA, but as is often the case, Donald Trump does things differently. Senators Marco Rubio (R) and Bill Nelson (D), both of Florida, where the agency's Cape Canaveral space center is located, expressed their disappointment with the appointment.
Lack of science-related credentials aside, Bridenstine is still an avid fan of space exploration, especially when it comes to private companies venturing out to space, according to the New York Times. "America must forever be the preeminent spacefaring nation and the moon is a path to being so".
Bridenstine was formerly the executive director of the Tulsa Air & Space Museum & Planetarium, and has been a long-time advocate of privatizing space.
"The head of NASA ought to be a space professional, not a politician", Nelson said in a brief written statement to POLITICO.... "I just think it could be devastating for the space program", Rubio told Politico.
Some climate experts have taken issue with past statements by Bridenstine downplaying human causes of climate change. It has always changed. "There were periods of time long before the internal combustion engine when the Earth was much warmer than it is today". In 2013, he sponsored a bill seeking to slash funding to the climate change studies conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
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Michael Gerrard, director of Columbia University's Sabin Center for Climate Change Law in NY, tweeted last week that Bridenstine is "a climate denier" and hyperlinked to information on a website of Organizing for Action, a Chicago-based advocacy group.
"I would say that the climate is changing".
For context, it's worth noting that the most recent NASA chief, Charles Bolden, is a decorated war veteran who was also an astronaut for 14 years. "Other exciting developments include the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope and Mars Insight in 2018, progress on future deep space exploration and science platforms such as Mars 2020, Europa Clipper and the Wide Field Infrared Space Telescope, and ongoing science, exploration, worldwide cooperation and economic development enabled by the global Space Station, leading to the eventual extension of new ventures and technology into deep space".
Bridenstine has received support from the Commercial Spaceflight Federation and some key Republicans.