Minimize Bill Nelson next NASA Administrator

Bill Nelson next NASA Administrator

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April 29, 2021: The Senate unanimously confirmed Bill Nelson to be NASA’s next administrator, wrapping up a whirlwind confirmation process that was vastly different from that experienced by his predecessor. 1)

The Senate confirmed Nelson’s nomination to be NASA administrator late April 29 via unanimous consent, a mechanism used for the expedited passage of bills and nominations where no senator disapproves. The confirmation came just a day after the Senate Commerce Committee favorably reported his nomination to the full Senate.

“I am honored by the president’s nomination and the Senate vote,” Nelson said in a NASA statement. “I will try to merit that trust. Onward and upward!”

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Figure 1: The full Senate confirmed Bill Nelson unanimously to be NASA administrator, just eight days after his confirmation hearing (photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

The confirmation, one of several nominations passed by the Senate by unanimous consent or voice vote, comes less than six weeks after the White House announced it would nominate Nelson, the former Democratic senator from Florida, to lead the space agency. Nelson faced no opposition to his nomination in an April 21 confirmation hearing by the Commerce Committee.

The speed at which the full Senate acted on the nomination — just before it adjourned for a weeklong recess — took many by surprise. Just before the Senate confirmed Nelson, NASA issued a news release touting its accomplishments in the first 100 days of the Biden administration, one that mentioned Nelson’s nomination but not his confirmation.

It also stands in contrast in how the previous NASA administrator, Jim Bridenstine, was confirmed. The Trump administration did not nominate Bridenstine until September 2017, and he was not confirmed until April 2018 on a 50–49 party-line vote. A vote the day before to invoke cloture on the nomination, ending debate, was held up when one Republican senator voted against the motion, later changing his vote for reasons unrelated to the nomination.

Nelson, a senator at the time, led the opposition to Bridenstine, at the time a congressman from Oklahoma. “The NASA administrator should be a consummate space professional. That’s what this senator wants, a space professional, not a politician as the head of NASA,” he said during debate on Bridenstine’s nomination. However, once Bridenstine became administrator, the two worked closely together, and Bridenstine endorsed Nelson’s nomination to lead the agency last month.

Nelson’s nomination also had support across the space industry. “His experience as a U.S. senator and as a NASA astronaut makes him a fitting leader for the agency,” Eric Fanning, president and chief executive of the Aerospace Industries Association, said in a statement after the Senate confirmed Nelson. “We look forward to working with Administrator Nelson to support the entire NASA mission, from developing the next generation of aeronautics technology, to better understanding our planet, to landing the next American on the moon and the first on Mars.”

“This strong show of bipartisan support highlights his leadership, deep expertise, and commitment to America’s space program,” said the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, another industry group. “The commercial space industry is excited to work with him to help advance NASA’s bold missions.”

“Unanimous confirmation underscores Bill Nelson’s solid relationships on Capitol Hill, which will be a big help for NASA with so many major missions on deck,” tweeted Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), chair of the House space subcommittee. “I look forward to working with Administrator Nelson on helping to keep this progress going!”

NASA hasn’t announced when Nelson will be formally sworn in, but that is expected to take place by early next week. The Senate, meanwhile, has yet to schedule confirmation hearings for the agency’s other two nominees, Pam Melroy for deputy administrator and Margaret Vo Schaus for chief financial officer.

“I’m happy to welcome Bill to the NASA family,” said Steve Jurczyk, who has been serving as acting administrator since Jan. 20. “It’s been an amazing year for NASA and our commercial and international partners, and I look forward to working with Bill and the Biden-Harris Administration to build on the incredible momentum we’ve built so far. It has been an honor to serve as acting administrator, but it’s the NASA workforce that makes the agency one-of-a-kind. Thank you for all you do to advance NASA’s critical missions.”


• May 01, 2021: The following is a statement from Sen. Bill Nelson, who the U.S. Senate confirmed as the 14th NASA administrator on April 29, regarding the announcement Saturday that Vice President Kamala Harris will chair the National Space Council: 2)

- “The Vice President is the perfect person to lead the federal government’s space policy, which is increasingly complex, with many nations in space.

- “Vice President Lyndon Johnson was the first chair of the National Space Council when America initially ventured beyond Earth. Now, Vice President Harris will coordinate our nation’s efforts to ensure America continues to lead in space. It is an exciting time for our space program.”

• May 03,2021: Sen. Bill Nelson took office as the 14th administrator of NASA Monday, after he was given the oath of office by Vice President Kamala Harris during a ceremony at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington. 3)

- In his new role at NASA, Nelson will lead the nation’s space program as it carries out critical missions, including landing the first woman and first person of color on the Moon with the Artemis program, expanding climate change research, fostering innovation and enhancing the U.S. economy and STEM workforce.

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Figure 2: From left to right, Pam Melroy, current nominee for NASA deputy administrator, former NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Bill Nelson Jr., son of Bill Nelson, Nan Ellen Nelson, daughter of Nelson, former Senator Bill Nelson, his wife, Grace Nelson, and Vice President Kamala Harris pose for a photo after Nelson was ceremonially sworn in as the 14th NASA administrator, Monday, May 3, 2021, at the Ceremonial Office in the Old Executive Office Building in Washington. A Moon rock collected by astronaut John Young during the Apollo 16 mission was also on display (photo credit: NASA, Aubrey Gemignani)

- “It’s an honor to be sworn in by Vice President Harris to serve as NASA administrator, and I look forward to a continued, strong relationship with her as chair of the National Space Council,” Nelson said after the ceremony. “I want to thank Steve Jurczyk for his leadership as Acting Administrator over the past few months, helping to carry out the Biden-Harris Administration’s priorities and ensure the success of NASA’s goals and missions. You’ve seen the incredible accomplishments at NASA over the past 100 or so days – the proof is in the pudding.”

- As part of the swearing-in ceremony, Vice President Harris and Nelson were joined via video conference by Jim Bridenstine, who preceded Nelson as administrator, and in-person by Charles F. Bolden, who served as administrator from 2009 to 2017. Nelson’s family and Pam Melroy, nominee for NASA deputy administrator, were guests at the ceremony.

- “I was glad to be joined today by my rock, my wife, Grace, my children, deputy administrator nominee Col. Pam Melroy, and former NASA Administrators Charlie Bolden and Jim Bridenstine, whose standing with me symbolizes the continuity of purpose and bipartisanship,” Nelson said. “It’s an incredible time for the aerospace sector, and I’m excited to lead NASA’s workforce into an exciting future!”

- “Congratulations, Mr. Administrator, for all the work you’ve done and all you’ve dedicated to our country,” Vice President Harris said. “I couldn’t agree more that this has to be about our nation and what is best for our nation, unencumbered by partisan politics, but based on what we know is the right thing to do.”

- The U.S. Senate confirmed Nelson to serve as the NASA administrator April 29.

- Nelson has an extensive history of working with NASA and has been integral to the agency’s current successes. Prior to his nomination, was a member-at-large on NASA’s advisory council. From 2001 to 2019, Nelson represented Florida in the U.S. Senate, where he served as ranking member of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and led its Subcommittee on Science and Space.

- Previously, Nelson represented Florida’s 9th and 11th districts in the U.S. House of Representatives. While chair of the House space subcommittee, Nelson flew aboard the space shuttle Columbia as a payload specialist on the STS-61C mission in 1986, where he conducted 12 medical experiments including the first American stress test in space and a cancer research experiment sponsored by university researchers. The mission also included Bolden, as pilot.

• May 05, 2021: A Message from NASA Administrator Sen. Bill Nelson to the NASA Workforce. 4)

Figure 3: NASA's new administrator Sen. Bill Nelson shares his vision for NASA's future.

- Nelson has an extensive history of working with NASA and has been integral to the agency’s current successes. Prior to his nomination, was a member-at-large on NASA’s advisory council. From 2001 to 2019, Nelson represented Florida in the U.S. Senate, where he served as ranking member of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and led its Subcommittee on Science and Space.

- Previously, Nelson represented Florida’s 9th and 11th districts in the U.S. House of Representatives. While chair of the House space subcommittee, Nelson flew aboard the space shuttle Columbia as a payload specialist on the STS-61C mission in 1986. The mission also included Bolden, as pilot.



1) Jeff Foust, ”Senate unanimously confirms Nelson as NASA administrator,” SpaceNews, 29 April 2021, URL: https://spacenews.com/senate-unanimously-confirms-nelson-as-nasa-administrator/

2) ”Sen. Bill Nelson Statement on National Space Council,” NASA Press Release 21-054, 01 May 2021, URL: https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/sen-bill-nelson-statement-on-national-space-council

3) ”Vice President Harris Swears in NASA Administrator Sen. Bill Nelson,” NASA Press Release 21-055, 3 May 2021, URL: https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/
vice-president-harris-swears-in-nasa-administrator-sen-bill-nelson

4) A Message from NASA Administrator Sen. Bill Nelson to the NASA Workforce,” 05 May 2021, URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpbKsFutOCI


The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (herb.kramer@gmx.net).

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