In a 2014 photograph taken throughout his time as a U.S. senator, Bill Nelson (heart) checks out a mockup of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft at Kennedy Space Center in Florida with former astronaut Chris Ferguson as his information. (NASA Photo / Kim Shiflett)

President Joe Biden’s alternative to steer NASA — former U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson — will be within the sizzling seat for a bunch of points in human spaceflight that will require a tough steadiness between “Old Space” and “New Space.”

Nelson is a 78-year-old Florida Democrat who went on an area shuttle flight as a congressman in 1986, and served three phrases within the Senate earlier than his defeat in 2018. In right this moment’s assertion asserting his nomination, the White House stated that Nelson “was known as the go-to senator for our nation’s space program,” and that “most every piece of space and science law has had his imprint.”

“I am honored to be nominated by Joe Biden and, if confirmed, to help lead NASA into an exciting future of possibilities,” Nelson stated in a press release. “Its workforce radiates optimism, ingenuity and a can-do spirit. The NASA team continues to achieve the seemingly impossible as we venture into the cosmos.”

Nelson has historically sided with Old Space — that’s, well-established aerospace firms comparable to Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

Most famously (or infamously), he championed NASA’s multibillion-dollar Space Launch System throughout his time within the Senate, to such an extent that the SLS got here to be nicknamed the “Senate Launch System.”

The rocket engines on the primary SLS core stage, which has Boeing as its prime contractor, had been run by their first profitable full-duration hot-fire take a look at on Thursday. That’s in preparation for an uncrewed round-the-moon take a look at flight that’s set for late this 12 months or early subsequent 12 months — reflecting a schedule that’s years behind the unique plan and a value that’s billions of {dollars} above the unique funds.

Even earlier than right this moment’s announcement of Biden’s intentions, Nelson got here in for criticism from those that favor turning away from SLS and doubling down on New Space firms comparable to SpaceX, which is following a quicker growth timeline at decrease price.

“His legacy is the monster rocket, and in some ways it is poetic justice that it will be his cross to bear,” Lori Garver, who disagreed with Nelson throughout her days as NASA’s deputy administrator within the Obama administration, wrote in a tweet.

But the Old vs. New Space dichotomy has damaged down dramatically, simply within the two years since Nelson left the Senate. SpaceX, the quintessential New Space firm, has turn out to be NASA’s main operator for journeys to and from the International Space Station. Meanwhile, Boeing has suffered greater than a 12 months’s value of setbacks in getting its personal CST-100 Starliner crew spacecraft into service — and misplaced out in its bid to construct a lunar lander for NASA.

It might be argued that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin area enterprise has engineered the largest breakdown of the Old vs. New paradigm: Blue Origin is usually thought-about a New Space firm, however its lunar lander staff contains three Old Space stalwarts: Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper.

In a tweet, Blue Origin congratulated Nelson on his choice. “Your experience both on and off Earth will ensure that we’ll have strong leadership and commitment when the U.S. returns to the moon – this time to stay,” the corporate stated.

Key decisions on NASA’s Artemis moon program will need to be made underneath Nelson’s watch. NASA’s whole funds for the present fiscal 12 months is roughly $23.3 billion, however some observers say it may need to be boosted by one other $5 billion to $7 billion yearly to fund Artemis adequately. It can be as much as Nelson to promote NASA’s subsequent funds request to his former colleagues in Congress.

Within the following month or two, NASA is predicted to pick out which staff, or groups, will get the go-ahead to construct the human touchdown system for missions to the lunar floor. Three groups are at present within the operating: Blue Origin’s “National Team,” SpaceX and Dynetics.

Congress has given NASA solely a few quarter of the $3.3 billion it was in search of to assist the lander growth effort in the course of the present fiscal 12 months – and which may drive the area company to downsize its plans to have the primary Artemis crew contact down within the moon’s south polar area in 2024.

If NASA’s funds is constrained, the decisions that lie forward for SLS and Artemis might effectively spark off an Old vs. New Space chess recreation, if not a flame struggle. For occasion, if the National Team finally ends up being the only alternative for Artemis’ touchdown system, SpaceX would virtually definitely problem the choice. But if the National Team is not noted, that would set off protests from Congress that well-established firms had been being handed over to go along with much less tried-and-true applied sciences.

Similar eventualities might come into play relating to funding NASA’s SLS rocket and Orion crew capsule vs. SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy booster.

If historical past is any information, Nelson and congressional leaders would wish to shield SLS. But SpaceX is shifting full pace forward with its plan for Starship moon journeys. SpaceX even has an opportunity of sending individuals across the moon on a privately funded flight earlier than SLS and Orion achieve this for NASA. Leaving SpaceX out would spark pointed questions on NASA’s priorities.

In any case, it’s virtually sure that Nelson will be the Florida man making the decisions at NASA, except he sabotages himself throughout his affirmation listening to earlier than the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Today, Nelson received reward from former NASA chief Jim Bridenstine, performing NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk and the senators who will vote on affirmation.

“Bill Nelson has long been one of NASA’s strongest and most passionate advocates,” Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who chairs the Commerce Committee, stated in a press release. “I am confident that he has the expertise and the political acumen to maintain and build upon the nation’s leadership in space in both the public and commercial sectors.”

That sentiment was seconded by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. “I cannot think of anyone better to lead NASA than Bill Nelson,” he stated in a press release. “His nomination gives me confidence that the Biden administration finally understands the importance of the Artemis program, and the necessity of winning the 21st-century space race.”

When then-President Donald Trump picked Jim Bridenstine to turn out to be NASA’s administrator in 2017, Rubio questioned the selection as a result of Bridenstine was an Oklahoma congressman with “political baggage.”

Nelson additionally voiced misgivings on the time, and voted towards Bridenstine. “The head of NASA ought to be a space professional, not a politician,” he stated.

If nothing else, the most recent twist in Nelson’s lengthy profession ought to show even to his critics that individuals, and area views, can change dramatically over time.