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When Jim Bridenstine became administrator of NASA 16 months ago, critics questioned his willingness to defend NASA's climate science portfolio and his ability to move beyond the partisan politics that characterized his nearly three terms as a Republican from Oklahoma. Since that time, Bridenstine has largely answered those questions. He has stood up for science and sought to work across the aisle.
However, Bridenstine has stumbled where most thought he would succeed—selling and communicating NASA's programs to Congress. In particular, the administrator appears to have angered some key Republican legislators who will be needed to support increasing funding for the agency's Moon plans.
For example, in March 2019, Bridenstine revealed at a Congressional hearing that NASA was looking at using commercial rockets to launch an uncrewed Orion spacecraft around the Moon. This represented a bold move, as Congress has demanded that NASA build the large Space Launch System rocket, at great cost, to serve as Orion's launch vehicle.
After this hearing, the chief Congressional champion of this SLS rocket, Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, was irate. Shelby chairs the Senate committee that writes NASA's budget. Multiple sources have told Ars that he excoriated Bridenstine, in private, after the administrator's public comments. Shelby was upset both at the potential side-lining of the SLS vehicle, as well as the fact that no one from NASA had bothered to tell him about Bridenstine's remarks in advance. Since that time, Bridenstine has been much more deferential to the SLS rocket.
This week, Bridenstine toured progress on construction of the SLS rocket's core stage at a NASA facility in Southern Louisiana, and then visited the agency's field center in Shelby's home state, Alabama. He was to speak at an "all-hands" meeting at Marshall Space Flight Center and also, according to a NASA news release, make an announcement about the Lunar Lander for the agency's Artemis Program to land humans on the Moon by 2024.Further ReadingFor rockets going farther than ever, you need the best and biggest tools
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