Today, President Joe Biden announced his intentions of nominating former NASA astronaut and U.S. Senator Bill Nelson to the post of Administrator for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Nelson is a former American Democrat politician who represented Florida in the U.S. Senate from 2001 to 2019; prior to that, he served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1979 to 1991.
Nelson, who was chair of the House Space Subcommittee, began astronaut training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas in September 1985. On January 12, 1986, he flew aboard the Columbia Space Shuttle as a payload specialist. Upon returning to Earth on January 18, 1986, Nelson became the second sitting member of Congress to travel into space. The first sitting member of Congress to fly in space was Republican representative Edwin Jacob “Jake” Garn, who flew on Space Shuttle Discovery in 1985 while serving as a U.S. Senator for Utah.
In his role of Senator, Nelson used his 18 year career in various committees which included the breadth of government policy from defense, intelligence and foreign policy to finance, commerce and health care.
Nelson isn’t a stranger to the nomination process: he offered his advice on the appointments with the previous two NASA administrators. In 2009, Nelson lobbied the Obama administration to nominate former astronaut Charles Bolden to be administrator, rejecting alternative candidates proposed by the administration. Bolden ending up serving as NASA administrator through the end of the Obama administration. In 2017, Nelson led the opposition to the Trump administration’s nomination of Jim Bridenstine, arguing at Bridenstine’s confirmation hearing that the “leader of NASA should not be political.” However, Bridenstine was eventually confirmed on a party-line vote.
Bridenstine resigned in January. Prior to his resignation, Bridenstine told Irene Klotz, space editor for Aviation Week, Aerospace Daily & Defense Report’s parent publication, that he didn’t think he’d be the right person in a new administration. “You need somebody who has a close relationship with the president of the U.S. … somebody trusted by the administration …. including OMB (Office of Management and Budget), National Space Council, National Security Council,” Bridenstine told Klotz in an interview.
When Bridenstine resigned, Steve Jurczyk became Acting Administrator. Jurczyk released a statement today, saying, ““I’m pleased President Biden has nominated former U.S. Senator Bill Nelson to lead our agency. Bill has a proven history of supporting our work here at NASA, and has helped advance America’s position in human exploration, science, aeronautics, and technology. While the Senate must confirm the nomination, I look forward to continuing to work with Bill and the Biden-Harris administration to carry out NASA’s many critical missions in the years to come.”