There’s a new NASA chief in town. Today (May 3), former U.S. senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), 78, was sworn in as the agency’s 14th administrator.
Vice President Kamala Harris, who was recently confirmed as the chair of the National Space Council (as is tradition with vice presidents), swore Nelson in this morning in a ceremony that took place at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building near the White House in Washington, D.C.. Nelson is taking over the NASA leader role from former administrator Jim Bridenstine, who stepped down from the post in January. Steve Jurczyk has temporarily filled the role of NASA’s acting administrator in the time since.
“To have the president and vice president have this kind of confidence in an old buddy from the Senate is indeed one of the high honors that anyone could have,” Nelson said following being sworn in today. “I am honored by the President’s nomination and the Senate vote … I will try to merit that trust. Onward and upward!” he added.
“This has to be about our nation and what is best for our nation, unencumbered by partisan politics but based on what we know is the right thing to do,” Harris said at the ceremony.
In attendance at the swearing in were Nelson’s family, former NASA administrators Charlie Bolden and Bridenstine (who attended virtually via a video conference) and former astronaut Pam Melroy, who was recently nominated for the role of NASA deputy administrator.
A notable inanimate object in attendance was a moon rock returned to Earth with NASA’s Apollo 16 mission. Nelson took the oath next to the lunar remnant, which was collected by astronaut John Young. The moon rock can be seen during the ceremony on a table next to Nelson, preserved in a translucent pyramid.
In taking on the role of administrator, Nelson promised during the ceremony to “help lead NASA into an exciting future of possibilities.” He added that NASA’s “workforce radiates optimism, ingenuity and a can-do spirit … the NASA team continues to achieve the seemingly impossible as we venture into the cosmos.”
Monday’s ceremony followed Nelson’s confirmation as NASA administrator by the Senate, who unanimously voted for the former senator and astronaut on Thursday (April 29). In addition to his tenure in U.S. politics, Nelson flew to space in 1986 as a payload specialist for a six-day flight aboard the space shuttle Columbia. Former administrator Bolden actually commanded the mission.
Nelson’s swearing-in ceremony also follows Kamala’s confirmation as head of the NSC.
“The vice president is the perfect person to lead the federal government’s space policy, which is increasingly complex, with many nations in space,” Nelson said in a NASA statement about Kamala’s confirmation for the role.
Nelson is inheriting the NASA administrator role as the agency pushes forward in exploring Mars with the Perseverance rover and works to return humans to the moon’s surface with its Artemis program. The agency is also continuing with many other boundary-pushing programs, including continued work on the giant Space Launch System megarocket.
Within the first 100 days of the Biden-Harris administration, the White House has already shown strong support for NASA. In addition, to support existing programs and spaceflight efforts, the new administration emphasized a commitment to battling against climate change and promoting science for the next generation.
“President Biden and Vice President Harris have expressed strong support for NASA’s goals and missions – and have laid out a vision that will guide the agency for the years to come,” acting NASA Chief of Staff Bhavya Lal said in a NASA statement.
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