Former senator Bill Nelson appearance before the Senate Commerce Committee this week turned into a mutual admiration society with legislators and the nominee for NASA administrator exchanging compliments and largely agreeing on the future direction of the space agency.
Barring some unexpected development, the Senate Commerce Committee should easily approve Nelson’s nomination and forward it to the full Senate, where it is likely to pass by a wide margin.
The only fireworks that were expected prior to the hearing involved NASA’s controversial decision last week to award a $2.9 billion contract to SpaceX to build the Human Landing System to take astronauts to the lunar surface as part of the Artemis program.
Some legislators have questions the decision to award a single contract instead of making multiple awards to maintain competition and give NASA redundancy. Losing bidders included Dynetics and Blue Origin’s National Team, which included Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper.
Nelson voiced support for the award and the goal of landing two astronauts at the lunar south pole by the end of 2024.
“I think you may be pleased that we’re gonna see that timetable try to be adhered to, but recognize that with some sobering reality that space is hard,” Nelson said.
The SpaceX contract covers an uncrewed and crewed lunar landings by the company’s Starship vehicle. NASA plans to open another competition for taking crews and cargo to the lunar surface as the agency builds a base on the moon.