US president Joe Biden plans to nominate former Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) to be the next NASA administrator. Nelson, who left the Senate in 2019, flew on the space shuttle Columbia in 1986 and has long been an advocate for the space agency.
Nelson, an attorney, served in state and national politics starting in the 1970s. In the US Senate he championed ambitious NASA programs even as others were pushing the agency to use private companies like SpaceX to put astronauts into space. Nelson criticized then-president Barack Obama’s decision to cancel the Constellation program, which would have developed new rockets with a goal of putting humans on the moon by 2020, because of budget overruns. In 2010, Nelson helped write a bill requiring NASA to continue developing those rockets, now called the Space Launch System, the ongoing development of which has cost one-third more than projected. But Nelson has not opposed private spaceflight companies; he cowrote the legislation allowing them to fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
The position of NASA administrator requires Senate confirmation, which should be easy for Nelson. He has support from senators of both parties, as well as from Jim Bridenstine, NASA administrator under President Donald J. Trump. Astrochemist Heather Abbott-Lyon of Kennesaw State University, who is chair-elect of the Astrochemistry Subdivision of the American Chemical Society, says scientists look forward to NASA’s continued funding support for scientific research under Nelson. (ACS publishes C&EN.)
Some have criticized Biden for not nominating a woman to the position. All of NASA’s administrators have been men.