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Monday, April 19, 2021

Explained: Who is Bill Nelson, NASA’s new Administrator?

Senator Bill Nelson will serve as NASA’s chief executive officer and will be directly accountable to President Biden.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: March 23, 2021 7:34:04 am
US Senator Bill Nelson onstage duing a campaign event in Miami, Florida. (Reuters/File photo)

US President Joe Biden has nominated former Senator Bill Nelson to serve as the 14th NASA Administrator. Nelson will serve as NASA’s chief executive officer and will be directly accountable to President Biden. In this role, he will articulate the space agency’s vision, will set its programmatic and budget priorities, internal policies and assess the agency’s performance.

Last month, NASA appointed Indian-American Bhavya Lal as the agency’s acting chief of staff. Lal had previously served as a member of the Biden Presidential Transition Agency Review Team for the agency and oversaw the agency’s transition under the administration of President Joe Biden.

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Who is Bill Nelson?

Nelsona, a graduate of Yale and the University of Virginia, represented the state of Florida from 2001-2019 where he served as a ranking member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. He has experience serving in public office for over four decades, in the state legislature, in the US Congress and then as the State Treasurer. Nelson also served in the US Army Reserve from 1965-1971 and was on active duty for over two years between 1968-1970.

A one-time astronaut, Nelson flew aboard the space shuttle Columbia as a payload specialist on the STS-61C mission in 1986. In May 2019, he was appointed to the NASA Advisory Council by former Administrator Jim Bridenstine. He has been an important supporter of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), which, the agency claims, is the most powerful rocket ever built. The SLS is a super-heavy-lift launch vehicle that will help exploration beyond the Earth’s orbit.

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In 2010, when Nelson was Senator he was the lead author of the law that authorised the programs of the agency for the years 2011-2013. Development of the SLS was one of the programs authorised by this law.

Nelson will now succeed Bridenstine, who served as the administrator for three years under the Trump administration and was formerly a Republican congressman from Oklahoma. According to media reports, while Nelson’s nomination has been broadly welcomed, some are disappointed that a female representative for the agency was not chosen instead.

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