Representative Jim Bridenstine, Republican of Oklahoma, will be nominated by President Trump to serve as NASA’s next administrator, the White House said on Friday night.
Mr. Bridenstine, a strong advocate for drawing private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin more deeply into NASA’s exploration of space, had been rumored to be the leading candidate for the job, but months passed without an announcement. If confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Bridenstine, 42, would be the first elected official to hold that job.
The previous administrator, Charles F. Bolden Jr., stepped down on Jan. 20, the first day of Mr. Trump’s presidency. Since then, Robert M. Lightfoot Jr., the associate administrator, has served as acting administrator. Mr. Lightfoot’s 225 days as of Saturday have already set a record for the longest time NASA has been without a permanent leader.
“I am pleased to have Representative Bridenstine nominated to lead our team,” Mr. Lightfoot said in a statement. “Of course, the nomination must go through the Senate confirmation process, but I look forward to ensuring a smooth transition and sharing the great work the NASA team is doing.”
Although NASA has little presence in Oklahoma, Mr. Bridenstine, a former Navy Reserve pilot who is now in his third term in the House Representatives, has long had an interest in space. Before being elected to Congress in 2012, he was executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Planetarium from 2008 to 2010.
While Mr. Bridenstine has criticized NASA’s spending on global warming science, he has voiced support for some of the agency’s earth observation missions, particularly for studying extreme weather.
“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 shuttlemissions 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, including the NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, returned to Earth. Ms. Whitson spent 665 days in space, longer than any other American and the eighth longest time over all.