Who will be the next NASA chief? If media and Twitter speculation is to be believed, it is likely to be former American Senator from the state of Florida, Bill Nelson. Last week, speculation grew rife on social media about Nelson being to a top pick for the post by the Joe Biden administration after defense news platform Breaking Defense tweeted about the same.
RUMINT: Former Sen. Bill Nelson (Fla.) is said to be Biden admin pick for NASA administrator, killing several birds with one stone: strong relationship with POTUS, congressional savvy. Pam Melroy is on deck as his deputy, bringing technical chops to bear. @Genevaexpat— Breaking Defense (@BreakingDefense) February 22, 2021
Who is Bill Nelson?
Bill Nelson is a former Senator from Florida is known to be close to President Biden. A long-time Democrat, the 78-year-old Nelson recently lost his reelection to the Senate in 2018 and has since been reportedly pushing to expand his role. Nelson has served as a six-time member of the House of Representatives and won three terms in the upper house. Nelson was first elected to Florida State House of Representatives in 1972 and became a member of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1978. He has represented the Kennedy Space Centre in the Senate for decades.
Is Bill Nelson an astronaut?
During the course of his six terms, Nelson became the first person from the House ever to travel to space. The Florida Senator flew on the Columbia Space Shuttle as a payload specialist as part of the STS-61C mission in 1986 after training in the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The mission was meant to launch a communication satellite in space and Nelson's journey on the shuttle lasted four days (Jan 12-18).
According to reports, Nelson had joined the NASA Advisory Committee in May last year as was announced by then NASA administrator under the Donald Trump government, Jim Bridenstine. He also referred to space exploration and the future of space travel in his last Senate speech.
What has Elon Musk got to do with it?
Jim Bridenstine was the NASA administrator at the time of the SpaceX mission to the International Space Station. As of now, NASA and Elon Musk-owned SpaceX which makes reusable rockets, have a close relationship with each other under the Commercial Crew Program. Nelson, who is now being touted as the next NASA administrator, has been known to be wary of SpaceX. Though he praised the 2018 Falcon Heavy rocket launch, he has often been opposed to NASA's support of commercial companies like SpaceX. According to a report in Ars Technica, he has even asked NASA officials to reportedly keep "their boy" in check.
What is the SLS controversy?
Nelson played an important role in the development of the highly expensive Space Launch System rocket. Dubbed as a super-heavy lift launch vehicle, development on the NASA project started in 2011 under the Barack Obama government. As of 2020, the cost of the project had amounted to US$18.6 billion. Nelson is credited for making this happen after he lobbied with a Republican senator in support of NASA building large rockets themselves as opposed to letting private companies like SpaceX be tasked with the engineering and manufacturing aspects. By allowing private companies like SpaceX more room to build rockets, NASA could spend its resources and money in developing technologies and other aspects of space exploration and astrophysics.
What do critics say?
Wait? What? A politician and not an aerospace professional?— MarkWhittington (@MarkWhittington) February 22, 2021
Not all are happy with the rumours. Critics of Nelson such as astrophysicist Simon Porter feel that "Nelson represents everything NASA needs to get away from". Porter took to Twitter to say that appointing Nelson as the NASA chief was like ""Trump putting oil executives in charge of EPA" levels of bad and corrupt. It has to be pushed by the lobbyists for the SLS contractors, and if Biden is even considering it, he's listening to the lobbyists, not the professionals". Additionally, Nelson himself is known to have been in opposition to former politicians becoming heads of the American space agency. In 2017, during the election of Jim Bridenstine, Nelson had vehemently opposed the move. "The head of NASA ought to be a space professional, not a politician," Nelson had said at the time.