Senate confirms former Florida Sen. Bill Nelson to lead NASA

Florida
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ORLANDO, FL – AUGUST 31: Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) speaks during a campaign rally at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades on August 31, 2018 in Orlando, Florida. Mr. Nelson is facing off against Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott for the Florida Senate seat. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate has confirmed former Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, who once flew on the space shuttle, to be the next NASA administrator.

Lawmakers agreed to President Joe Biden’s choice to lead the space agency by consensus late Thursday, without a roll call vote.

Nelson will become NASA’s 14th administrator, succeeding another former member of Congress, Jim Bridenstine, a Republican from Oklahoma. Nelson currently serves on the NASA Advisory Council.

Nelson promised, when nominated, to “help lead NASA into an exciting future of possibilities.” The space agency is working to send astronauts back to the moon this decade.

“Its workforce radiates optimism, ingenuity and a can-do spirit,” Nelson said in a statement. “The NASA team continues to achieve the seemingly impossible as we venture into the cosmos.”

Nelson, 78, grew up near Cape Canaveral and was serving as a Democratic congressman when he launched aboard space shuttle Columbia on Jan. 12, 1986. His commander was Charles Bolden Jr., who later served as NASA administrator under President Barack Obama — at Nelson’s urging.

Just 10 days after their flight ended, the space shuttle Challenger failed shortly after liftoff and all seven astronauts were killed.

Nelson, who has a law degree and is a former captain in the U.S. Army Reserve, served six terms in the House of Representatives from 1979 to 1991. He was elected in 2000 to the Senate, where he served until his defeat in 2018 by former Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

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