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Biden nominates ex-Florida Sen. Bill Nelson to lead NASA

Biden nominates ex-Florida Sen. Bill Nelson to lead NASA
© Greg Nash

President BidenJoe BidenBiden administration still seizing land near border despite plans to stop building wall: report Olympics, climate on the agenda for Biden meeting with Japanese PM Boehner on Afghanistan: 'It's time to pull out the troops' MORE plans to nominate former Florida Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonWhy does Rep. Johnson oppose NASA's commercial human landing system? Trump hands Rubio coveted reelection endorsement in Florida Overnight Defense: Top House Armed Services Republican talks National Guard at Capitol, Afghanistan, more | Pentagon chief visits Afghanistan amid administration's review | Saudis propose Yemen ceasefire MORE (D) to serve as administrator of NASA, the White House said Friday.

If confirmed, Nelson, who served in the Senate for 18 years, will helm NASA as it carries out its Artemis program by working with private companies to establish a presence on the moon with the ambitious goal of reaching Mars in the coming years.

Biden’s plans to nominate Nelson were first reported by The Verge and other news outlets on Thursday and confirmed by the White House on Friday.

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Nelson, who is 78, served three terms representing Florida in the Senate but lost to current GOP Sen. Rick Scott in 2018. Nelson served alongside Biden when he represented Delaware in the upper chamber.

During his time in the Senate, Nelson served in leadership positions on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and was a vocal advocate for the U.S. space program during his government service. Nelson also served in the House of Representatives and in Florida’s state legislature before he was elected to the upper chamber.

Nelson himself flew on the space shuttle Columbia in 1986 and spent six days in orbit when he was in Congress and was serving as the chair of a House subcommittee overseeing space science and applications. Nelson’s district at the time included the Kennedy Space Center.

Nelson will need to be confirmed by the Senate in order to helm NASA. His relationships with lawmakers in the upper chamber that he formed as a senator are likely to help him move toward confirmation in the 50-50 Senate. 

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHillicon Valley: Biden administration sanctions Russia for SolarWinds hack, election interference Senators reintroduce bill to block NATO withdrawal New US sanctions further chill Biden-Putin relations MORE (R-Fla.) issued a statement Friday morning strongly backing Nelson’s nomination.

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“I cannot think of anyone better to lead NASA than Bill Nelson,” Rubio said. 

“There has been no greater champion, not just for Florida's space industry, but for the space program as a whole than Bill. His nomination gives me confidence that the Biden Administration finally understands the importance of the Artemis program, and the necessity of winning the 21st century space race. I look forward to supporting Bill’s swift confirmation, and working with him in the years to come.”

Steve Jurczyk, who was NASA’s highest-ranking civil servant during the Trump administration, is currently serving as acting NASA administrator.

Updated at 10:57 a.m.