President Joe Biden chooses former Democratic Senator Bill Nelson to lead NASA, the White House ad Friday. If approved by the Senate, Nelson will pass Jim bridenstine, who left his post at the end of Donald Trump’s tenure.
The three-term senator from Florida and ally of Biden has long championed the NASA mandate. In 1986, he flew aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia, becoming the second member of Congress to do so. He was also a vocal critic of Jim Bridenstine’s appointment. “This committee has heard me say several times: NASA is not political. The head of NASA should not be political,” he said before a vote divided between party lines.
Nelson will oversee the agency at a critical point in its history. In mid-February, NASA landed Perseverance, its most technically advanced rover to date, on the surface of Mars. In the New Years, he will explore the planet for signs of old life. He will also oversee NASA’s attempt to return to the Moon under Artemis project. The agency currently aims to bring humans back to the lunar surface by 2024, an ambitious timeline that NASA may have trouble getting together.
If there’s anything that could derail Nelson’s confirmation auditions, it’s his story of supporting the Space launch system (SLS). The project to build a new heavy-lift rocket for NASA is years behind schedule and billions of dollars are over budget.