Biden on Friday announced his intent to nominate Bill Nelson as the space agency’s administrator.
If confirmed by the Senate, Nelson will become NASA’s 14th administrator, succeeding another former member of Congress, Jim Bridenstine, a Republican from Oklahoma. Nelson currently serves on the NASA Advisory Council.
Nelson, 78, grew up near Cape Canaveral and served as a Democratic congressman when he launched aboard the space shuttle Columbia on Jan. 12, 1986. His commander was Charles Bolden Jr., who later served as NASA administrator under President Barack Obama — at Nelson’s urging. Ten days after their flight ended, Challenger was destroyed shortly after liftoff, and all seven astronauts were killed.
Nelson, a law degree and a former captain in the U.S. Army Reserve, served six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1979 to 1991. He was elected in 2000 to the Senate, where he served until his defeat in 2018 by former Florida Gov. Rick Scott. In 2017, Nelson criticized Bridenstine’s nomination by President Donald Trump, saying the leader of NASA shouldn’t be political but rather nonpartisan.
Bridenstine instead offered kind praise Friday and urged Nelson’s confirmation “without delay.
In a statement, Bridenstine said Nelson has the political clout to deal with both the White House and Congress and the diplomatic skills to lead an international effort to send astronauts back to the moon and on to Mars. He also has “the influence to deliver strong budgets for NASA.”
Members of Congress already are voicing support for Nelson.
“There has been no greater champion, not just for Florida’s space industry, but for the space program as a whole than Bill,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, said in a statement. “His nomination gives me confidence that the Biden administration finally understands the importance of the Artemis (moon landing) program and the necessity of winning the 21st-century space race.