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Sen. Rubio: Bill Nelson 'An Excellent Choice' To Lead NASA

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NASA
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President Joe Biden is looking to a former senator from Florida who flew on the space shuttle just before the Challenger accident to lead NASA.

If confirmed by the Senate, Bill Nelson will become NASA’s 14th administrator, succeeding another former member of Congress, Jim Bridenstine, a Trump appointee. Nelson currently serves on the NASA Advisory Council.

Nelson, now 78, was serving as a Democratic congressman when he launched aboard space shuttle Columbia on Jan. 12, 1986. The Columbia mission was about two weeks before space shuttle Challenger exploded just after launch, killing all seven crew members. His commander was Charles Bolden, who later served as NASA administrator under President Obama — at Nelson’s urging.

“Madame President, I rise to speak today on a subject that our colleagues here know that is very dear to my heart,” said Nelson in 2018, in one of his final speeches on the floor of the Senate. “I stand before the Senate with a heart full of gratitude, joy, and hope for the future of our space program.”

Part of Nelson’s speech came from the perspective of a former astronaut. A lesson learned, he said, is that we should try to treat people different from ourselves with compassion, dignity, and respect.  

“Looking back at Earth from the window of a spacecraft you don’t see political divisions; you don’t see racial divisions and you don’t see religious differences,” said Nelson. “Instead, you quickly realize that we on this planet, our planet Earth, are all in this together.”

Some of the greatest scientific discoveries of his lifetime, many of which were made by NASA, has filled Nelson with wonder.

“Signs of water and perhaps even life on Mars; the discovery that our galaxy is full of countless planets – many of them very possibly inhabitable,” Nelson said.

And Nelson noted one of NASA’s greatest triumphs — the rescue and recovery of Apollo 13 in April, 1970, after an explosion on-board, and recounted in the 1995 Ron Howard film.

“As everyone in NASA’s family is keenly aware, navigating the heavens is as dangerous now – if not more so – than the crossing of the oceans was 100, 200, 300 years ago,” he said. 

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Credit NASA
STS 61-C crew (L-R): Robert Cenker (payload specialist, RCA Astro-Electronics), Charlie Bolden (NASA), Bill Nelson (payload specialist, U.S. Congress), Steve Hawley (NASA), George “Pinky” Nelson (NASA), Robert “Hoot” Gibson (NASA), Franklin Chang-Diaz (NASA).

With the battles and divisions these days among government entities in Washington, Nelson contends NASA must be non-partisan. As an example, he offered praise for current Administrator Jim Bridenstine – a former congressman and a Republican – who had held the position for about a year at the time.

“I applaud him on continuing the make good on his promises to keep NASA out of partisan politics,” Nelson said. “And to heed the advice of the agency’s talented and experienced space professionals and the scientists.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) – posted on Twitter that Nelson would be an “excellent pick” to lead NASA, which has plans to return to the moon and to send a manned mission to Mars.