Former Florida Sen. Bill Nelson joins NASA advisory committee

click to enlarge Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio applaud during a speech from Vice President Mike Pence at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida in 2017. - Photo by Joey Roulette
Photo by Joey Roulette
Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio applaud during a speech from Vice President Mike Pence at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida in 2017.

Bill Nelson, the former astronaut–turned-senator, is getting active again in the space arena, most recently as the newest member of NASA's Advisory Committee.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted on Tuesday he's "proud to announce that Sen. Bill Nelson, an astronaut, will be joining us next week as one of the newest members of the @NASA Advisory Committee."

"He is a true champion for human spaceflight and will add tremendous value as we go to the Moon and on to Mars," Bridenstine said. NASA's Advisory Committee meets this week in its Washington, D.C., headquarters to review the space agency's portfolio of space operations, including the new Artemis moon program.

"I look forward to working with you and @NASA to once again send Americans to explore the heavens," Nelson tweeted to Bridenstine.

The three-term democratic senator and former Columbia astronaut, who was unseated in last year's midterm election by former Florida governor Rick Scott, opposed Bridenstine's nomination to lead the space agency over fears he would bring Trump-flavored partisanship to NASA.

Nelson spoke for 16 minutes on the Senate floor last August to say Bridenstine, a former congressman from Oklahoma appointed by Trump last year, would be unprepared "to be the last in line to make that fateful decision on 'GO' or 'NO GO' for launch. ... because leading NASA is for an experienced and proven space professional," Nelson said.

Bridenstine, a Republican, was ultimately confirmed to the role on party lines and was sworn in on April 23, 2018.

But one of the biggest challenges Bridenstine has faced so far as NASA's top official has been coordinating U.S. astronauts' return to the lunar surface by 2024, heeding the audacious call to do so from Vice President Mike Pence in March.

The administrator has pulled from his playbook as a loquacious congressman to tout NASA's mandate in the public arena, a key effort practiced by past administrations to secure enough funding from lawmakers and woo the public to support space science and exploration.

Nelson's advisory role on the NASA committee will, presumably, help with that task, building on the space policy he pushed through Congress as a lawmaker and the experience he gained in 1986 as a payload specialist on Space Shuttle Columbia's STS-61-C mission.

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