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Biden nominates former senator Bill Nelson for NASA administrator

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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  • Tom Billings

    *If* Pam Melroy does get the Deputy Administrator position, then that *might* ameliorate some of the worst. Her rep, among those who have worked for her is of a sharp, determined, and can do technical administrator. Of course, whether she gets to make use of those skills for some positive impact is something we must wait upon.

  • Jeff Wright

    He’s not a firebrand. Lori might be what SLS haters want-but she would just be about climate. Nelson will just putter about-no surprises.

  • Phill O

    “the weak-minded elected official does not run things. Instead, it is the unelected Washington bureaucracy in charge.”

    This sounds very familiar. Government works tend to be left wingnuts. This is why even conservative state (provinces) have lockdowns.

  • Dick Eagleson

    I suspect the bottom line for Nelson will continue to be what it seemingly always was – the benefit of his native Space Coast. That’s why he reversed himself on commercial cargo and crew once the Space Coast payrolls associated with those activities got big enough. Nelson has long been an OldSpace guy but that was because OldSpace employed most of his Space Coast constituents. Now NewSpace employs a lot of them and will employ still more in coming years. I don’t think any NewSpace outfit with a payroll on the Space Coast has much to fear from a Bill Nelson NASA Administratorship.

  • Dick Eagleson: Ah, but the biggest and most innovative growth in New Space right now is not in Florida, but in Texas. Nelson might end up playing favorites in this game, especially since the Florida companies (Boeing, Blue Origin) have spent a lot of money paying off politicians. Texas (led by SpaceX) has not so much.

  • I will not be surprised if Mr. Nelson along with the FAA and FCC does as much damage as they can to SpaceX in Boca Chica. I think Elon Musk wanted his own area to avoid all of the hassle of working at The Cape under Old Space rules. I do believe that SpaceX will eventually start Starship operations at The Cape but not until there is a viable launch system. They need The Cape to launch government payloads and support multiple daily launches because of the “safety” zone provided.

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