Ex-Sen. Bill Nelson confirmed as next NASA administrator

Former U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida will be the new NASA administrator after the Senate voted unanimously to confirm his nomination Thursday. The NASA administrator is the highest ranking post in the space agency, serving as the senior science adviser to the president who also leads the country's space exploration efforts.

Last week, Nelson testified before a Senate science committee.

He told committee members, if you ask me what my vision for the future of NASA is, it's to continue for us to explore the heavens with humans and with machines.

Nelson said the new administration is moving ahead with former President Donald Trump's plan of putting humans back on the moon and eventually landing astronauts on Mars. He also said he thinks it’s important more women and people of color serve in NASA.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said at the time, I can’t think of a better American alive to serve in this role.

President Joe Biden nominated Nelson for the top job at NASA on March 18.

Nelson's background in space and politics had already placed him on a shortlist for the nomination. He was born in Miami but grew up in Melbourne, Florida, which is near what's now called Patrick Space Force Base and just south of Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center.

He's also a former astronaut, flying as a payload specialist on space shuttle Columbia in 1986. He spent six days in space, making him the second sitting member of Congress to head there.

In the Senate, he was the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee that oversaw the space program and chaired that subcommittee when Democrats had majority control.

Nelson replaces former NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who was confirmed in April 2018.

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