ORLANDO, Fla. – President Joe Biden is considering former U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Florida, to lead NASA during a critical time as the agency attempts to return astronauts to the moon in less than four years, according to a report from Breaking Defense magazine.
Former NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine stepped down in January, the day Biden was sworn into office. It’s normal for the incoming president to pick a new administrator to lead the agency but Bridenstine said he would not stay until a new leader was confirmed or even if he was asked to stay on by the new administration.
Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard also left NASA on the final day of the Trump administration.
RUMINT: Former Sen. Bill Nelson (Fla.) is said to be Biden admin pick for NASA administrator, killing several birds with one stone: strong relationship with POTUS, congressional savvy. Pam Melroy is on deck as his deputy, bringing technical chops to bear. @Genevaexpat— Breaking Defense (@BreakingDefense) February 22, 2021
Steve Jurczyk stepped in as the acting NASA administrator on Jan. 20. He was previously the associate administrator.
Nelson is a Florida native and grew up on the Space Coast. He was first elected to U.S. Congress in 1986, during his time as a representative of Florida, Nelson became the first member of the House to go to space.
Nelson flew on board Space Shuttle Columbia’s STS-61 mission in 1986.
Nelson was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2000 and was defeated in the 2018 election by former Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who holds the seat now.
Nelson has been a strong advocate of the U.S. space program and served on the U.S. Senate committee on commerce, science and transportation, which oversees issues related to space.
The former senator previously advocated on behalf of NASA’s Space Launch System, the agency’s moon rocket under the Artemis program.
Under its current path, NASA aims to return humans to the moon by 2024, a goal moved forward by four years at the direction of then President Donald Trump. It remains to be seen if the new administration continues with the ambition goal or pushes the deadline back to 2028.
Whoever Biden nominates to lead NASA will still need to be confirmed in the Senate.
Nelson did not support Bridenstine’s confirmation as NASA administrator, arguing the head of NASA should be someone in the spaceflight industry. However, similar to Bridenstine, who was a former Oklahoma congressman, Nelson is also career politician.
A White House spokesperson declined to confirm if Nelson is among Biden’s front runners for the position.