President Biden has tapped former Democratic Senator Bill Nelson for NASA administrator, according to three people familiar with the decision. Nelson, a politically experienced ally of the administration, would steer the space agency as it races to return humans to the Moon, bolsters its climate research and expands its reliance on a flourishing commercial space industry.
A former congressman and three-term US senator from Florida, Nelson would succeed former president Trump’s NASA chief Jim Bridenstine, whose past experience in Congress proved key in rallying support for the Artemis program, an ambitious campaign to use the Moon as a stepping stone for future astronaut missions to Mars.
Biden’s decision comes nearly two months after he took office and as the White House remains largely silent on rolling out any space policy agenda. Senate and NASA staffers who were informally briefed this week on Biden’s decision were told that a formal announcement on Nelson’s nomination would come this week, three sources said, speaking under anonymity to discuss private conversations before the announcement is made. Former astronaut Pam Melroy is being considered for Nelson’s deputy, one of the sources said.
Rumors that Biden was considering Nelson to lead NASA had been swirling openly among space industry circles for roughly a month, but it wasn’t until this week that the White House and NASA cemented the choice.
Nelson represented Florida’s Space Coast as a state legislator in the 1970s and championed NASA through his time in Congress. He became the second sitting member of Congress to fly to space in 1986 as a payload specialist aboard Space Shuttle Columbia. A moderate Democrat, Nelson served three terms in the Senate until losing his bid for reelection in 2018 to former Florida Governor Rick Scott.