Biden taps former U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida to lead nation’s space program

    The Atlantis space shuttle, ready for launch in 2011 to visit the International Space Station. Credit NASA/Bill Ingalls.

    WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said Friday that he’s picked former U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida to head up NASA.

    The White House in its announcement stressed Nelson’s long experience with the U.S. space program. Nelson, a Democrat, chaired the Space Subcommittee as a member of the U.S. House for six years and during his time in the Senate was the chairman or ranking member of the Senate Space and Science Subcommittee.

    He was also the ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

    As a relatively recent former member of the Senate who’s well known to members, Nelson is likely to have a smooth confirmation process.

    “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,” the White House said, referring to a former Republican senator from Texas.

    “That law set NASA on its present dual course of both government and commercial missions,” the White House said. “In 1986 [Nelson] flew on the 24th flight of the Space Shuttle. The mission on Columbia orbited the earth 98 times during six days.  Nelson conducted 12 medical experiments including the first American stress test in space and a cancer research experiment sponsored by university researchers.  In the Senate he was known as the go-to senator for our nation’s space program.  He now serves on the NASA Advisory Council.”

    Media reports on Thursday had said that Nelson was expected to be selected by the Biden administration for NASA. In 2018, Nelson lost to then-Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, in a close battle for the U.S. Senate seat in Florida. Nelson had served three terms in the Senate.

    Nelson is a fifth-generation Floridian whose family came to the state in 1829, the White House said. He served in public office for more than four decades, including in the state legislature, in Congress and as state treasurer.

    Jane Norman
    As the Washington Bureau Chief of States Newsroom, Jane directs national coverage, managing staff and freelance reporters in the nation’s capital and assigning and editing state-specific daily and enterprise stories. Jane is a veteran of more than three decades in journalism. Before coming to States Newsroom, she edited news coverage of national education policy and the congressional budget and appropriations process for Politico.