Biden Picks Bill Nelson to Lead NASA

March 19, 2021 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Friday nominated former Sen. Bill Nelson to be the next NASA administrator.

The Florida Democrat served three terms in the Senate before losing his reelection bid to Republican Rick Scott in 2018.

In 1986, while still a member of the House of Representatives, Nelson got a chance to travel to space, taking part in a mission aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia.

In the Senate he was an outspoken advocate for the agency as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

The president’s nomination was widely expected, as Nelson spoke regularly about space policy on behalf of the Biden campaign last year. 

Nelson’s nomination requires Senate confirmation.

“I am honored to be nominated by Joe Biden and, if confirmed, to help lead NASA into an exciting future of possibilities,” Nelson said in a statement. “The NASA team continues to achieve the seemingly impossible as we venture into the cosmos.”

This is a critical time for NASA as momentum accelerates in the commercial space program.

SpaceX is about to launch its third flight of astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA, and Boeing is expected to join the crew delivery effort later this year.

At the same time, NASA is teaming up with private companies to launch experiments and equipment to the moon, and also lunar landers that would deliver astronauts to the surface. 

The new moonshot program is named Artemis after the twin sister of Apollo, and NASA has indicated it plans to include a woman on its first moon landing.

In an announcement of his nomination, the White House noted that “most every piece of space and science law has had his imprint, including passing the landmark NASA bill of 2010 along with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson.”  

That bill instructed NASA to develop a new launch vehicle, the Space Launch System, and continue work on the Orion spacecraft, while also authorizing the commercial crew program that was an Obama administration priority.

During his 1986 trip into space, Nelson circled the Earth 98 times in six days, conducting 12 medical experiments including the first American stress test in space and a cancer research experiment sponsored by university researchers.  

Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., said the choice was logical: “His heart and soul is all about space. It’s great for my state. To have a Floridian in that spot, on every level it’s exquisite.”

“I am pleased that the president has chosen Sen. Nelson to lead NASA, an agency that is one of the crown jewels of the nation’s science and technology enterprise and a source of inspiration throughout the world,” said Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas. 

“Through his committee leadership positions in both the House and Senate, Sen. Nelson has amassed decades of experience in dealing with NASA, Congress, and the space and aviation communities, and I know he will be able to hit the ground running when he becomes administrator. He shares my love for NASA and the dedicated men and women who work there, and I look forward to working with him to create an exciting future for the agency.”

“Former Sen. Nelson knows space policy inside and out as a leader on the Senate Commerce Committee, and as someone who has been to space,” agreed Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Chairman Don Beyer, D-Va. “His experience, knowledge, and strong ties to Capitol Hill will be an asset as the Biden-Harris administration pursues an ambitious agenda of space exploration and scientific advancement, which will require support and funding from Congress. This is a time of great American achievements in space, with even brighter possibilities ahead, and I look forward to partnering with Sen. Nelson to continue this exciting progress at NASA.”

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