Florida’s former Sen. Bill Nelson is set to become NASA’s next administrator if confirmed by the Senate, after President Joe Biden officially nominated the Brevard County native to lead the space agency on Friday.
Multiple news outlets, including The Washington Post and The Verge, were first to report that the Biden administration planned to announce Nelson, 78, as the nominee.
In a statement from the White House, the administration praised Nelson’s four decades of service in public office.
“His committees included the breadth of government policy from defense, intelligence and foreign policy to finance, commerce and health care. Nelson chaired the Space Subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives for 6 years and in the Senate was the Chairman or Ranking Member of the Senate Space and Science Subcommittee and Ranking Member of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation,” the White House statement read.
The statement continued, “Most every piece of space and science law has had his imprint, including passing the landmark NASA bill of 2010 along with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson. That law set NASA on its present dual course of both government and commercial missions.”
Nelson currently serves on the NASA Advisory Council.
If confirmed, Nelson will lead the U.S. space agency during a critical time NASA plans to return humans to the moon in the next three years.
Former NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine stepped down in January, the day Biden was sworn into office. Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard also left NASA on the final day of the Trump administration.
Steve Jurczyk stepped in as the acting NASA administrator on Jan. 20. He was previously the associate administrator.
“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,” Jurczyk said in a statement Friday. “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.”
Nelson is a fifth generation Floridian and grew up on the Space Coast. He was first elected to U.S. Congress in 1986, and 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. If confirmed he will be the third NASA administrator to have achieved spaceflight.
The Florida Democrat 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 Trump. It remains to be seen if the new administration continues with the ambition goal or pushes the deadline back to 2028.
“The men and women at NASA are an incredible national asset and will continue to take on the most pressing issues facing our country. As we look to the future – and with Bill at the helm – we will continue to take on and find solutions to problems once thought unsolvable, and educate and inspire the next generation of American scientists, engineers, and workers,” Jurczyk said Friday.
News of Nelson’s nomination quickly spread ahead of the official announcement and reaction was mixed but mostly supportive of Biden’s pick.
“Sen. Nelson has been to space and knows space policy inside and out, and I look forward to working with him to support this exciting time of progress at NASA,” Rep. Don Beyer, the chair of the House space subcommittee wrote.
“There has been no greater champion, not just for Florida’s space industry, but for the space program as a whole than Bill,” Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida, state in a statement. “His nomination gives me confidence that the Biden administration finally understands the importance of the Artemis program, and the necessity of winning the 21st century space race.”
When asked for comment about Nelson’s impending nomination Scott’s deputy communications director said in a statement: “As with every nominee, Senator Scott looks forward to reviewing the qualifications of the NASA Administrator nominee and hearing about their views on and experience with the space program.”
Democratic Rep. Val Demings, of Orlando, congratulated Nelson Thursday on social media.
“Congratulations to Florida’s great @SenBillNelson on his nomination by @POTUS to run @NASA. A terrific choice who will help take our state and our country into a bright future of exploration and discovery,” Demings wrote.
“You keep making Florida so proud,” Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy, of Orlando, added on Twitter.
Check back for updates on this developing story.