If confirmed, Bill Nelson will lead the country’s space agency. While certainly qualified, criticism of the pick stems from the fact that Biden could’ve picked the first woman to ever assume the lead role at NASA.
Bill Nelson began his political career as a state lawmaker for Florida in 1972, and by 1978, he represented the state in the House of Representatives. He flew in space alongside NASA astronauts in 1986 aboard the last successful flight of the Columbia space shuttle before its disastrous end. Four years later, he unsuccessfully tried to attain the Democratic nomination for Florida Governor in the 1990 election cycle. The flight with NASA, however, led to him becoming a prominent voice in Congress on matters involved with space and technology. From 2001 to 2019, he served as a Florida Senator until losing the 2018 election to Rick Scott by a narrow margin.
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When former Oklahoma congressman Jim Bridenstine was nominated for the position, which he attained in 2018, Bill Nelson did not lend his support because the “Head of NASA should be a space professional… not a politician.” Apparently, he’s changed his mind as he prepares to take Bridenstine’s place at the top of the agency. Steve Jurczyk is currently occupying the position as “acting” until Nelson, or someone else, is confirmed by the Senate.
What criticism has fallen on the pick orbits around the fact that Nelson is a white man. The Biden Administration and its cabinet are already known for embracing diversity, so many thought the pick to lead NASA would be a woman as only men have ever led the space agency. The first black man to lead NASA was a former marine, Charlie Bolden, who was nominated by Obama. There was speculation in the media that someone like Ellen Stofan, a former scientist at NASA and current director of the Air and Space Museum in DC, would be a solid pick for the job. The White House ultimately nominated Nelson, who is 78 years old, and some were disappointed. However, with his previous experience as a ranking member of the Congressional Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, his qualification to be the head of NASA is seemingly apparent.
In the early 1980s, Sally K. Ride became the first woman in space and Guion Bluford became the first African-American, and NASA has gradually become more diverse since. Black women like Katherine Johnson of Hidden Figures fame and Jeanette Epps, who later this year is set to become the first African-American female to live on the ISS, are integral pieces of both NASA’s past and future. In February this year, NASA renamed their DC headquarters after Mary Jackson, the first black woman engineer to work for the agency.
Biden's Space Policy
Other than requesting a rock from the moon to be displayed in the Oval Office and expressing support for the Artemis Program that began under the previous administration, not much is known about the President’s current opinions or interest regarding the country’s space program. Not mentioning NASA during the 2020 campaign by instead focusing on more urgent issues facing the country due to the pandemic, Biden has not indicated much about upcoming space policy. The Artemis missions, named for the sister of Apollo in Greek Mythology, were started under Trump and sought to get man back on the moon by 2024. Biden has remarked that he wants to continue the project, but with a more realistic timetable that extends further in the future. Other than that, what Biden and Nelson plan to get done at NASA is, for the moment, uncertain.
Until Next Time,
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