Reports Say Biden Will Nominate Former Florida Senator Bill Nelson to Lead NASA

Florida Senator Bill Nelson

There are reports this morning that former Florida Senator Bill Nelson to be the next administrator of NASA. I don’t see anything official on the White House website, but it seems likely.

The same reports say that former NASA astronaut Pam Melroy will be nominated to serve as deputy administrator. The retired U.S. Air Force colonel served as pilot for two space shuttle missions before commanding the STS-120 mission in 2007. She was a member of the Biden Admimistration’s agency review team for NASA during the transition.

Nelson, 79, served three terms in the U.S. Senate from 2001-2019, where he was a strong backer of NASA and the U.S. space program. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1979-2001. Nelson is considered to be a moderate Democrat.

Rumors of Nelson’s nomination to NASA’s top job have caused considerable consternation among NewSpace supporters. They blame him for helping saddle NASA with the perpetually over budget and behind schedule Space Launch System (SLS) that has been the biggest barrier to sending astronauts back to the moon.

The core stage of SLS is due for a hot fire at the NASA Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. An announcement of Nelson’s appointment today would be interesting if it actually happens.

One action that some hold against Nelson is his flight aboard the space shuttle Columbia while serving in the House. Nelson flew as a payload specialist on the STS-61-C in January 1986. This was the flight immediately prior to the loss of the space shuttle Challenger later that month.

Nelson is one of only two sitting members of Congress to fly into space. Utah Sen. Jake Garn, a Republican, flew as a payload specialist aboard the space shuttle Discovery in April 1985.