Though this is certainly not a firm rule, I rarely pay much attention to the nomination hearings in the Senate that take place whenever a new administration from another party takes over and nominates a new set of Washington apparatchiks to run various government agencies. Almost always, you can glean most of what you need to know by reading the nominee’s opening statement as well as later news reports. Saves a lot of time.
Last week came the nomination hearing of former senator Bill Nelson as NASA’s new administrator. As I had expected, based on all reports the hearing was a lovefest, with almost all questions friendly and enthusiastic. This is generally what happens when a Democrat gets nominated, as the Democrats have no reason to oppose the nominee and the Republicans generally don’t play “we oppose all Democrats, no matter what.” It also always happens when the nominee is a former member of that exclusive senatorial club, as Bill Nelson was.
The first news reports also mentioned that Nelson seemed surprisingly enthusiastic towards commercial space, given his past hostility towards it. This report by Mark Whittington today at The Hill provides a much deeper look, and notes that, as his report’s headline states, Nelson is now “a born-again” believer in the idea of capitalism in space, with NASA now merely being the customer. This is a major change from his position when he was a senator, when he tried repeatedly to strangle commercial space and give its money to SLS.
Nelson also announced that he was totally committed to continuing the Artemis program and timetable as laid out by the Trump administration:
Nelson … expressed support for the idea of landing on the moon by 2024, on Mars by the 2030s, the Artemis Accords, the National Space Council and NASA’s Earth science programs to help fight climate change. He even expressed concern about China’s drive for space dominance.
Indeed, the one overriding message that Nelson sought to impart was that his tenure as NASA administrator would be one of continuity with the previous regime. He would not propose any drastic changes in policy but would rather seek to continue those enacted by the previous administration. In past changes of presidencies, NASA has suffered whiplash with abrupt changes in the direction of its human spaceflight program.
Why has Nelson changed so thoroughly? And why is the Democratic Biden administration going along as well, given the Democrats lockstep opposition to all things Trump for the past four years as well as their routine hostility to private enterprise? This paragraph by Whittington says it all:
Part of what must have changed Nelson’s mind is the fact that SpaceX is now providing assured American access to space. Not coincidentally, SpaceX is launching the Crew Dragon from the Kennedy Space Center in Nelson’s own state of Florida, providing lots of jobs and money. Nothing changes minds as thoroughly as success. [emphasis mine]
Private enterprise and competition, based on profit, will always out do anything a state-run centralized program tries to accomplish. We have seen this fact well demonstrated in the past decade. Nelson — and the Democrats — are now board, at least when it comes to launching things into space. Because of this buy-in the coming decade for the exploration of space will likely be a spectacularly wonderful thing.
If only these Democrats could recognize that this fact also applies to Earth. If they did, they might finally get out of the way of all Americans, allowing everyone to once again pursue their own happiness, based on freedom and liberty.