Senate Unanimously Approves Bill Nelson as NASA Administrator

Bill Nelson

The U.S. Senate has unanimously approved the nomination of former Sen. Bill Nelson to be NASA Administrator.

Nelson, 78, 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.

In January 1986, Nelson flew aboard the space shuttle Columbia as a payload specialist while serving in the House. 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.

Nelson’s nomination to NASA’s top job 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. They also say he was a reluctant supporter of commercial space activities.

The Senate has yet to take up the nomination of former NASA astronaut Pam Melroy to serve as deputy administrator. The retired U.S. Air Force test pilot commanded one space shuttle mission and served as pilot on two others between 2000 and 2007. Melroy has also worked at the Federal Aviation Administration and Defense Advanced Projects Agency in addition to having extensive experience in the private sector.

Another nomination awaiting a Senate vote is that of Margaret Vo Schaus to serve as NASA’s new chief financial officer. She is currently director of business operations in the Department of Defense’s Research and Engineering Office.