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Biden Picks Former Senator Bill Nelson To Lead NASA

Bill Nelson on STS-61-C in 1986. Photo: NASA
Bill Nelson on STS-61-C in 1986. Photo: NASA

President Joe Biden has picked former Senator Bill Nelson to lead NASA.

"I'm honored to be nominated by Joe Biden and, if confirmed, to help lead NASA into an exciting future of possibilities," Nelson said it a statement. "Its workforce radiates optimism, ingenuity and a can-do spirit. The NASA team continues to achieve the seemingly impossible as we venture into the cosmos."

As NASA’s new administrator, Nelson will oversee a more than $20 billion annual budget and an agency “to do” list that includes returning humans to the moon, a renewed focus on climate change and building commercial partnerships with private space companies.

As a member of the U.S. Senate, Nelson criticized the Trump administration’s pick for the NASA chief Jim Bridenstine, saying the head of NASA shouldn’t be a politician.

“NASA is not political,” Nelson said in a 2017 confirmation hearing for Bridenstine. “The leader of NASA should not be political. When [NASA] has been partisan in the past, we’ve had disasters.” If confirmed, Nelson will be the second consecutive politician to fill the role.

The former administrator endorsed the pick for his successor. "Bill Nelson will have the influence to deliver strong budgets for NASA and, when necessary, he will be able to enlist the help of his friend , President Joe Biden," Bridentine said in a statement. "The Senate should confirm Bill Nelson without delay."

Nelson is not stranger to space. Back in 1986, then a member of the House, Nelson flew to space on the Shuttle Columbia, as a space flight participant.

Rumors of Nelson's nomination earlier this month drew a mixed response from space industry players. Critics wanted Biden to return to a leader with deep ties to the space industry and were hopeful the administration might name the first female administrator. Supporters noted Nelson's close relationship with Biden and the support of his former colleagues in Congress would lead to a quick nomination and smooth relationship between the hill and NASA.

"My choice, my preference, my hope was that we would have a woman," said Charlie Bolden, former NASA administrator nominated by President Obama. "I would have loved to have a black woman, but there was no black woman in in the in the queue. But I'm happy with with Senator Nelson, provided he has a female deputy."

During his three decades serving in the House and Senate, Nelson championed NASA projects and steered funding to the agency. He lost his re-election campaign in 2018 to former Governor Rick Scott.

"Bill Nelson would be an excellent pick to lead," said Republican Senator and former colleague Marco Rubio.

Nelson's nomination heads to the Senate for confirmation. Biden has yet to announce NASA's deputy administrator.

Brendan Byrne is WMFE's Assistant News Director, managing the day-to-day operations of the WMFE newsroom, editing daily news stories, and managing WMFE's internship program.

Byrne also hosts WMFE's weekly radio show and podcast "Are We There Yet?" which explores human space exploration.