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NASA’s new chief big on climate, hedges on 2024 moon landing

In this Wednesday, April 21, 2021 file photo, former U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, nominee for administrator of NASA, speaks during a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation confirmation hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington. In his first news interview since becoming NASA’s top official this week, Nelson told The Associated Press on Friday, May 7 that measuring the climate and diversifying the workforce are top issues. Nelson hedged on whether the U.S. can put astronauts on the moon by 2024. (Saul Loeb/Pool via AP)

NASA’s new administrator is big on tackling climate and diversifying the agency’s workforce, but hedging on whether the U.S. can put astronauts on the moon by 2024.


In his first interview since becoming NASA’s top official this week, former Sen. Bill Nelson told The Associated Press on Friday that tracking climate change is a top issue. He also wants to diversify the space agency’s workforce so it reflects America.

As for landing astronauts on the moon, Nelson said the goal remains 2024, a deadline set by the Trump administration. But he said he needs more time to review the matter, especially with a contract protest over the lunar lander for astronauts.

“We all know that space is hard,” he said, noting there are often delays developing new technologies. “But the goal is 2024.”

His underlying vision for NASA: “to explore the heavens with humans and machines.”

Nelson said he did not seek the NASA administrator job and had recommended three women to lead the space agency. He said he told the Biden administration he would accept the nomination only if one of the women could serve as his deputy. Selected for the job: former space shuttle commander Pam Melroy.

Nelson, 78, is NASA’s 14th administrator, the third to fly in space and the first to grow up in the shadow of rockets. He was sworn in Monday by Vice President Kamala Harris, who will head the National Space Council. In a show of bipartisan space support, the two previous administrators took part in the ceremony, representing the Obama and Trump administrations.

  • NASA's new chief big on climate, hedges on 2024 moon landing
    Former astronaut and former Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, center, speaks following a ceremonial swearing in administered by Vice President Kamala Harris, as National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) administrator in the Vice President’s Ceremonial Office at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex, Monday, May 3, 2021. With Nelson is his wife Grace Nelson, right, and daughter Nan Ellen Nelson. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
  • NASA's new chief big on climate, hedges on 2024 moon landing
    In this photo provided by NASA, former U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, is ceremonially sworn-in as the 14th NASA Administrator by Vice President Kamala Harris, as his wife, Grace Nelson, holds their family Bible, accompanied by son, Bill Nelson Jr., third from left, and Nan Ellen Nelson, fourth from left, at the Ceremonial Office in the Old Executive Office Building in Washington on Monday, May 3, 2021. A moon rock collected by astronaut John Young during the Apollo 16 mission was on display and former NASA Administrators Jim Bridenstine (virtually on laptop) and Charles Bolden, second from left, were also present. (Aubrey Gemignani/NASA via AP)

Nelson steps into NASA’s top job after 44 years of public service, 42 of them in an elected public office.

Nelson grew up near Cape Canaveral, graduating from high school a year before Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space 60 years ago this week. He went on to law school and served in the U.S. Army Reserve during the Vietnam War. After a few terms in the Florida legislature, Nelson, a Democrat, won election to Congress, first in the House and then the Senate, before a 2018 defeat ended his political career.

It was while Nelson was a congressman that he rocketed into orbit aboard space shuttle Columbia in January 1986—just two weeks before Challenger’s astronauts perished during liftoff.


Bill Nelson, head of NASA, hails ‘new day in space’


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NASA’s new chief big on climate, hedges on 2024 moon landing (2021, May 7)
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