Nelson, who flew a space shuttle mission more than three decades ago, has been a long proponent of NASA. He is not an astronaut, but is one of the rare civilians who has traveled to space.
Though the vast majority of NASA employees have long-term careers at the space agency, it is common for incoming presidents to install new leadership at NASA’s headquarters in Washington, DC.
If confirmed by the Senate, Nelson would succeed Jim Bridenstine, a Trump appointee who took office in 2018 after serving in Congress. Though Bridenstine’s appointment was initially met with broad pushback on Capitol Hill, the former Oklahoma congressman managed to gain respect from the space community and many stakeholders pressed the Biden camp to keep Bridenstine in his role.
“What you need is somebody who has a close relationship with the president of the United States. You need somebody who is trusted by the administration … including the OMB (Office of Management and Budget), the National Space Council and the National Security Council, and I think that I would not be the right person for that in a new administration,” Bridenstine told the outlet.
“It is a position where a failure of leadership can quite literally mean the difference between life and death,” Nelson said, later concluding that he felt Bridenstine’s qualifications fell short of what’s necessary for a NASA administrator.
Nelson’s time in the Senate also previewed the fierce advocacy for a substantial NASA budget that he is likely to take to the role if confirmed.
“If they don’t push hard now for research and development of the new big rocket that’ll take us out of low-Earth orbit and let us explore the heavens, then we are going to be falling behind China and Russia, and that’s something I don’t think will sit well with the American people.”
This story has been updated with additional information Thursday.
CNN’s Jackie Wattles contributed to this report.
Source: CNN – US News