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Senate unanimously confirms Bill Nelson as the next NASA chief

Former Senator Bill Nelson spoke in front of his old committee on April 21, 2021, during his confirmation hearing.
(Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Former U.S. senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) was officially and unanimously confirmed by the Senate to be the agency's new administrator Thursday (April 29). 

President Joe Biden nominated Nelson for the role of new NASA administrator last month. Nelson takes the reins from acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk, who had been leading the agency following the departure of previous administrator Jim Bridenstine. Bridenstine stepped down as NASA chief at the end of the Trump presidency in January 2021. 

On Wednesday (April 28), the Senate Commerce Committee voted to advance Nelson's nomination for the role, and today the full Senate held a confirmation vote. Senators unanimously voted for Nelson to take on the role under the new presidential administration.

Video: Watch Bill Nelson launch into space aboard Columbia

In-flight portrait of STS 61-C crew. Astronaut Robert L. Gibson (lower right corner), mission commander, is surrounded by fellow crewmembers, counter-clockwise from upper right: Astronaut Charles F. Bolden, pilot; U.S. Representative Bill Nelson (D.-Florida), and Robert J. Cenker, RCA, both payload specialists; and Astronauts Steven A. Hawley, Franklin R. Chang-Diaz and George D. Nelson -- all mission specialists.  (Image credit: NASA)

"I am honored by the President’s nomination and the Senate vote," Nelson said following the confirmation, according to a NASA statement. "I will try to merit that trust. Onward and upward!"

"I'm happy to welcome Bill to the NASA family," Jurczyk said in the same statement. "It's been an amazing year for NASA and our commercial and international partners, and I look forward to working with Bill and the Biden-Harris Administration to build on the incredible momentum we’ve built so far. It has been an honor to serve as acting administrator, but it's the NASA workforce that makes the agency one-of-a-kind. Thank you for all you do to advance NASA's critical missions."

Related: Biden nominates former astronaut Pamela Melroy for NASA deputy chief

"Bill Nelson is an excellent pick for NASA administrator," Bridenstine said in a statement about Nelson following his nomination, adding that the new chief "will have the influence to deliver strong budgets for NASA and, when necessary, he will be able to enlist the help of his friend, President Joe Biden." 

Bridenstine had also stated that the Senate should confirm Bill Nelson "without delay," and that happened today. 

Nelson represented Florida as a U.S. senator from 2001 to 2019, an era that saw the end of the agency's space shuttle program and the beginning of commercial spaceflight. In addition to his political career, Nelson is actually a former spaceflyer: In 1986, he served as a payload specialist on a six-day flight on the space shuttle Columbia

While Nelson has the Senate's unanimous approval, Biden has also openly voiced his support for the choice. 

"In the Senate he was known as the go-to senator for our nation's space program," Biden officials wrote in a statement following Nelson's nomination. "Most every piece of space and science law has had his imprint."

Related: NASA chief nominee Bill Nelson talks Artemis program & more

Thursday's confirmation follows the nomination of Pal Melroy,  a former NASA astronaut and former Air Force colonel, for the role of NASA deputy administrator. As an astronaut, Melroy flew three space shuttle missions, supporting the building of the International Space Station, and served as commander of her final flight in 2007. Along with former NASA astronaut Eileen Collins, she is one of only two women to ever command the space shuttle. Melroy's nomination is still making its way through Congress. 

"I believe that Pam Melroy will be a great partner to help lead NASA," Bill Nelson said about her nomination in a statement obtained by Florida Today. "Pam has the longstanding technical and leadership experience that will help NASA on its mission to explore the cosmos, expand climate change research and ensure NASA-developed technologies benefit life here on Earth."

Email Chelsea Gohd at cgohd@space.com or follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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Chelsea Gohd

Chelsea Gohd joined Space.com as an intern in the summer of 2018 and returned as a Staff Writer in 2019. After receiving a B.S. in Public Health, she worked as a science communicator at the American Museum of Natural History and even wrote an installation for the museum's permanent Hall of Meteorites. Chelsea has written for publications including Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine, Live Science, All That is Interesting, AMNH Microbe Mondays blog, The Daily Targum and Roaring Earth. When not writing, reading or following the latest space and science discoveries, Chelsea is writing music and performing as her alter ego Foxanne (@foxannemusic). You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd.