“People often say, ‘Why are you so involved in space issues?’” Mr. Bridenstine said at the commercial space transportation conference. “‘You don’t have any space interests in Oklahoma.’ You bet I do. My constituents get killed in tornadoes. I care about space.”
Phil Larson, a White House space adviser during the Obama administration and now an assistant dean at the University of Colorado’s college of engineering and applied science, said of Mr. Bridenstine, “I think he’s a pretty prudent, pragmatic guy.”
However, Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio of Florida, the starting point of NASA’s Apollo and space shuttle missions at the Kennedy Space Center, expressed skepticism about Mr. Bridenstine’s nomination.
“The head of NASA ought to be a space professional, not a politician,” Mr. Nelson, a Democrat, said in a statement on Friday.
Mr. Rubio, a Republican, said in an interview with Politico: “I just think it could be devastating for the space program. Obviously, being from Florida, I’m very sensitive to anything that slows up NASA and its mission.”
The Trump administration has not laid out detailed space goals, although Mr. Trump signed an order in June reviving the National Space Council, a group to coordinate space efforts by different parts of the government including the Air Force and NASA. The council last existed under President George Bush in 1993 and was led by Vice President Dan Quayle.
Vice President Mike Pence is leading the new incarnation of the space council. Scott Pace, who was director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, was named as the council’s executive secretary. It has yet to hold its first meeting.
With the White House and Congress busy tackling other, larger issues, NASA’s missions seem likely to follow the current trajectory. “I don’t see any big changes on the horizon,” Mr. Larson said.
This year, NASA and the White House considered putting astronauts on the first launch of the Space Launch System, now expected in 2019. But ultimately they decided to keep the current plan for a first flight without a crew.
On Saturday night, a crew from the International Space Station was scheduled to return to Earth, including the…