Nelson in space. Photo credit: NASA
March 19th, 2021
This morning President Joe Biden announced his intentions to nominate Bill Nelson to serve as the NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) Administrator. If approved by the Senate, Nelson will be the second consecutive Chief of NASA to come from congress, and would give the administration close ties with the Oval Office as he has a long personal relationship with our current President, and a key supporter during the election. A fifth generation Floridian whose family came to the state in 1829 he has served in public office for over four decades now, first in the state legislature and U.S. Congress, then as State Treasurer. He represented the third largest state for eighteen years as he was elected three times to the United States Senate. He holds numerous committees from government policy on defense, intelligence, and foreign police to finance, commerce and health care.
Also, Bill Nelson is no stranger to space, or the space industry, and a long standing advocate of the U.S. Space program. Back in 1986 he flew on the twenty-fourth flight of the Space Shuttle and spent six days orbiting Earth on the shuttle Columbia. Along with eleven other medical experiments Nelson performed during the mission he was first American to perform a “stress test” in space. Since his flying days he has spent years on the NASA advisory council and is known as the go-to-senator for our nations space program. Almost every piece of space and science law has been imprinted by Nelson, including the landmark bill NASA passed in 2010 that set NASA on its present course of both government and commercial missions. He also chaired the Space Subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives for six years and in the Senate was Chairman or Ranking Member of the Senate Space and Science Subcommittee, and the Ranking Member of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
This nomination come at a critical time for NASA. They recently landed the “Perseverance” rover on Mars and is continuing the effort to return men, and land the first woman on the Moon for the first time. A key test of that mission took place just yesterday at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration supports the effort of the Artemis Program, continuing a Trump administration program that Nelson would now oversee. Bill Nelson, a key member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee which oversees NASA was not in favor of the former administrator Jim Bridenstine, saying he was not qualified in part because of his political ties. “The NASA administrator should be a consummate space professional who is technically and scientifically competent, and a skilled executive,” he said at Bridenstine’s confirmation hearing. Continuing with, “This committee has heard me say many times: NASA is not political. The leader of NASA should not be political and should not be bipartisan; the leader of NASA should be nonpartisan. As acting NASA administrator, Jim Bridenstine appointed Nelson to a NASA advisory committee, calling him a “true champion for human spaceflight.” Lori Garver, who served as the deputy administrator of NASA under the Obama administration said that Nelson will will need to understand why the SLS rocket “has cost so much more than projected.” and also said “he has already had more influence on NASA than anyone in recent memory, so he has plenty of experience and should be able to hit the ground running.”
While Bill Nelson is an established and well known champion for NASA many had been hoping for a new generation of leadership in the agency. The era of a female administrator. Wayne Hale, a former NASA space shuttle program manager who was the flight director for forty missions stated there were plenty of qualified female candidates, and had this to say, “It’s time for a female administrator.”