Biden to make ex-Senator Bill Nelson new NASA chief

US President Joe Biden is reportedly tapping former Democratic Senator Bill Nelson as the next NASA administrator.

According to a report in The Verge late Thursday, Nelson, who is a former Congressman and three-term Senator from Florida, would succeed former President Donald Trump’s NASA chief, Jim Bridenstine.

“I cannot think of anyone better to lead NASA than Bill Nelson. His nomination gives me confidence that the Biden Administration finally understands the importance of the Artemis programme, and the necessity of winning the 21st century space race,” Senator Marco Rubio, who was Nelson’s Republican colleague from Florida, was quoted as saying.

The Artemis III mission will launch the first woman and next man to the Moon in 2024.

NASA has said it will develop a detailed mission operation plan when human landing system capabilities, a landing site, and other architectural details come into sharper focus.

The procedures and operations techniques developed for Artemis III will also inform future Artemis missions.

As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee that oversees NASA, Nelson laid into then-nominee Bridenstine during his confirmation hearings, criticising his record on climate change and stressing that a politician shouldn’t run NASA.

“This committee has heard me say many times: NASA is not political. The leader of NASA should not be political,” Nelson had said.

NASA last month selected Elon Musk’s aerospace company SpaceX to provide launch services for two major components of the Gateway that will serve as a way station for future Moon missions.

As part of the contract, SpaceX will provide launch services for NASA’s Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) and Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO), the foundational elements of the Gateway.

The total cost to NASA is approximately $331.8 million, including the launch service and other mission-related costs, the US space agency said.

As the first long-term orbiting outpost around the Moon, the Gateway is critical to supporting sustainable astronauts missions under the agency’s Artemis programme.