The Biden administration today announced that it has nominated former Democratic senator Bill Nelson for Florida to be the next NASA administrator.
Nelson was a big proponent of SLS. He also was a big opponent of commercial space for many years, changing his mind only during the last few years in the Senate.
He is also old, 78. Though that age by itself does not guarantee failing mental abilities, the last time I saw Nelson live was during 2017 hearings instigated by senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) related to the Outer Space Treaty. During those hearings he struck me as confused, unaware of the most recent developments in commercial space, and repeatedly struggling to express himself on the simplest topics.
In this sense he will make a great bookend with Joe Biden. In both cases the weak-minded elected official does not run things. Instead, it is the unelected Washington bureaucracy in charge.
How this will impact the growing and successful commercial space market at this moment remains unclear. Within NASA there are two camps, one favoring private enterprise and the other wanting to control it so that NASA decides everything. For the last half of the 20th century through the first decade of the 21st the latter was in charge. In the past decade the former has gained ascendancy.
As a longtime supporter of the latter group, Nelson’s appointment therefore could shift that battle in a way that aborts America’s new private space effort.
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