President Biden’s choice of NASA administrator, former Senator Bill Nelson, flew through his Senate confirmation hearing as expected. With questions from his “ old buddies ” about NASA’s commercial partnerships, climate change, and workforce diversity, Nelson’s hearing was quiet and garnered dual praise. He supported the agency’s current plan to send its first crew of astronauts to the moon with a SpaceX rocket and emphasized NASA’s role in studying climate change.
Just over a month after being overheard by Biden for the NASA chief, Nelson told lawmakers that he supported the president’s concise budget request for 2022 for NASA and defended the $ 2.3 billion it for the Earth science wing of the agency had mapped out – an increase of 15 percent from the previous year. “It is a very important increase. You can’t mitigate climate change unless you measure it, and that’s NASA’s expertise, ”he said. “Understanding our planet gives us the tools to better protect it.”
In his testimony and comments to lawmakers, Nelson, a former congressman and a US senator from three Florida office holders, made “determination of the goal” his priority, if confirmed by the Senate. He plans to maintain the moonshot momentum created under the Trump administration, while increasing support for climate-focused goals championed by Biden, including “ climate change, educating and inspiring a diverse STEM workforce, ” he said. build back better through innovation and use space to create and strengthen global alliances and ensure US global leadership. “
The hearing came less than a week after NASA chose Elon Musk’s SpaceX to build the country’s first human lunar lander since 1972, one of the agency’s most significant awards in years. The single price came as a surprise to many who expected NASA to choose two providers, either Blue Origin or Dynetics, who had also developed rival landing systems.
Asked by senators where Nelson stands for NASA’s commercial partnerships and the Artemis program – the Trump administration’s agenda to land people on the moon by 2024 – Nelson backed the program and the agency’s decision to make SpaceX a single lunar lander contract to mature Starship for NASA’s first two missions to the moon (one unmanned, the other manned). Based on what he read in the news about the SpaceX price, he said, NASA still has a chance of going to the moon by 2024.
“I think you might be glad we’ll see the timetable try to be met, but realize that space is difficult with some sobering reality,” said Nelson. Without mentioning SpaceX, he said NASA’s current “prize winner” for the lander means NASA should try to stick to the 2024 date, a goal set by then Vice President Mike Pence in 2019 that was widely considered unrealistic.
That 2024 date was not realistic, Biden’s transition team found, due to a shortage of funding from Congress. But that was when NASA was still expected to pick out two suppliers of lunar landers. Now with Starship as NASA’s first ride to the moon, which came at a much cheaper price than SpaceX’s rivals, agency officials would publicly stick to the 2024 goal.
Nelson’s support for the single source selection seemed reserved only for the first phase of NASA’s human landing systems program. NASA plans to invite more companies to compete for future lunar lander contracts. Asked if other elements of Artemis, such as space suits, should be built by multiple companies rather than just one, Nelson said, “Yes, Senator. And competition is always better than just sourcing. “
During the hearing, Nelson praised Jim Bridenstine, the former NASA chief whose previous experience as a congressman proved pivotal to rallying support for Trump’s Artemis program. Nelson scolded Bridenstine for being a politician at his 2018 hearing, but switched on Wednesday. “Jim had tremendous success in increasing political and public support for NASA, particularly around the Artemis program,” Nelson said in a written testimony. “If confirmed, I look forward to continuing to work with him and will seek his advice.”
The Senate Trade Commission will vote to send Nelson’s nomination to the Senate on April 28, and it is almost certain that he will ratify the confirmation. Wednesday’s hearing was a “total love feast,” a NASA source said, echoing characterizations on Twitter. “I think you understand exactly why Joe nominated him.”
In an interview with The edge, Bridenstine said he expects Nelson to “go through the confirmation process,” given his support among Republican senators. “If there are members of the Senate who are considering not supporting him, I can happily say that is a mistake. I think he has all the tools necessary to become a great NASA administrator, ”said Bridenstine.
Republican sens. Ted Cruz, who held onto two of Biden’s nominees in March, and Rick Scott, who beat Nelson in his 2018 reelection bid, made the two-pronged vibes clear at the end of the hearing. Scott said, “It’s nice to see a Floridian nominated to NASA.”
Cruz said to Nelson with a smile, “There aren’t many Biden nominees that I’m excited about, and your nomination is a notable exception.”
Photography by Joey Roulette / The Verge