Nelson Confirmed by Senate to be NASA Administrator

Nelson Confirmed by Senate to be NASA Administrator

The Senate confirmed Bill Nelson to be the new NASA Administrator by unanimous consent today, just one day after his nomination was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee. A former Senator, he is highly regarded by his colleagues as evidenced by the swiftness of his confirmation.

Nelson, 78, is a close friend of President Joe Biden. Both career politicians, they served in the Senate together for 8 years and Nelson worked on Biden’s presidential campaign in Florida.

Biden picked Nelson to be NASA Administrator just 6 weeks ago. Democrats and Republicans alike praised Nelson as the right man for the job during his nomination hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee last week and the committee unanimously approved the nomination yesterday.

The Senate is about to leave for a one-week recess. This afternoon it voted on a large number of nominations, including Nelson’s.

Nelson served in the House from 1979-1991 and in the Senate from 2001-2019.  He won a reputation for bipartisanship on many issues, especially space. He is an ardent NASA enthusiast who flew on a January 1986 space shuttle mission, STS 61-C, when he was in the House and chairing a space subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.

The pilot of that mission was Charlie Bolden who was NASA Administrator under the Obama Administration. He knows Nelson well and told at the time of the nomination that he expects Nelson will fight for human spaceflight, science, technology (especially nuclear propulsion), as well as commercial space. “I think he will strongly support the further facilitation of the success of commercial space, which means commercial platforms, commercial destinations in LEO, not just commercial launch vehicles.”

In a statement, Nelson said he was honored by the nomination and the Senate’s vote and “will try to merit that trust. Onward and upward!”

Acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk welcomed Nelson and said he is looking “forward to working with Bill and the Biden-Harris Administration to build on the incredible momentum we’ve built so far. It has been an honor to serve as acting administrator, but it’s the NASA workforce that makes the agency one-of-a-kind. Thank you for all you do to advance NASA’s critical missions.”  Jurczyk is NASA’s Associate Administrator, the top civil servant in the agency. He has been temporarily filling the job of Acting Administrator since the beginning of the Biden Administration on January 20.

Biden has nominated Pam Melroy, a former NASA astronaut, to be to Deputy Administrator. Her nomination was just sent to the Senate last week and a hearing has not been scheduled.

Biden is a NASA enthusiast himself and is requesting a 6.3 percent increase for NASA in FY2022. Still, the White House and Congress are asking NASA to do a lot — return humans to the Moon, study climate change, return samples of Mars to Earth, advance space and aeronautics technology, inspire children to study STEM field, and more.  Nelson and Melroy will need to sort out the priorities and fit them within expected budgets in a credible manner that will win support from Congress.

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