The politician who said politicians shouldn’t run NASA wants to run NASA

The politician who said politicians shouldn't run NASA wants to run NASA
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Zoom in / Rep. Bill Nelson (Florida Democrat, below) then underwent zero-gravity training aboard a KC-135 with other astronauts trained in 1985. To his right is school teacher Christa McAuliffe, who died along with seven other crew members in Challenger Disaster.

Bettmann | Getty Images

On Monday, a rumor surfaced in Washington for several weeks – that former US Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, was the main contender for the next NASA administrator.

Breaking Defense has posted publicly Share the rumor on TwitterPointing out that Nelson has a “strong” relationship with President Biden and understands how Congress functions. Nelson, 78, lost his 2018 bid for re-election to the Senate. He has served six terms as a member of the House of Representatives and three terms in the Senate.

Two sources told Ars that Nelson is pushing hard to become a manager and is taking advantage of his friendly relationship with Biden to do so. “This is more than just a rumor,” a source said. However, it is also not a finished bargain, since after rumors spread, there has been a backlash in the space community about the appointment of Nelson to the position, who has a long and sometimes controversial history in the space community.

Simon Porter, an astrophysicist on the New Horizons mission who speaks candidly on Twitter, may have summed up some of the anxiety. By writingLiterally, this is Trump’s “appointment of oil executives to account for bad and corrupt EPA levels.” It should be pushed by the lobbyists to SLS contractors, and if Biden thinks about it, he is listening to lobbyists, not professionals. “

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Nelson Astronaut

Nelson is sure to bring a lot of experience and familiarity to the role of NASA Administrator. In addition to representing the Kennedy Space Center in Congress for decades, he flew as a payload specialist on the Space Shuttle. Colombia In January 1986.

However, much of the space industry saw Nelson’s mission as an influential politician making his way aggressively to the space shuttle for purposes of self-optimization. In his book Ride a rocketFormer NASA astronaut Mike Mullan colorfully recounts the behavior of Nelson, whom Mulan said sought any possible attempt to elicit favorable publicity.

Mulan wrote, “He wanted to be a contributing member of the crew and do something really important.” There was only one problem. None of the principal investigators of any of the experiments featured on the mission wanted to get Nelson anywhere near their equipment. They got one chance to do their experiments, and have been working with the astronauts for months on how best to operate Equipment, and I had no desire for a non-technical politician at the last minute to spoil things. “

Ultimately, Nelson earned a troublesome nickname from his crewmates for the role he eventually played in the shuttle mission–Ballast.

Space Launch System

Most recently, Nelson played a major role in NASA’s development of Expensive Space Launch System missile. Early in his presidency, Barack Obama sought to cancel NASA’s efforts to build a major rocket, the Ares V, and to see if the private sector could build launch vehicles more efficiently. This will free up NASA’s budget for technology development, and other purposes, as companies like SpaceX are starting to emerge.

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Nelson joined the major Republicans in opposing this plan and mobilizing votes against it. As a result, NASA has been directed to build another large rocket, the Space Launch System, as a replacement for Ares V. (Over a decade and $ 20 billion later, the SLS rocket has yet to be launched). Nelson also led the mission to reduce funding for the commercial crew, a NASA initiative to have companies like SpaceX and Boeing deliver astronauts to the International Space Station after the space shuttle is retired.

Working with Senator Richard Shelby, a Republican from Alabama, Nelson saw that the Commercial Crew program received less than half the money the White House sought for commercial crews from 2011 through 2014. Instead, Congress invested that money in a missile. SLS.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Nelson continued to blame NASA for its support of the commercial companies, especially SpaceX. After SpaceX founder Elon Musk announced the development of the Falcon Heavy – a low-cost competitor to the SLS – Nelson Buttonholed NASA officials in support of the company. He told them, according to two sources, keep your “son” in line.

Not a politician

In 2017, Nelson also led Jim Bridenstein’s opposition to becoming NASA administrator. Nelson then said, as a senior member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, which oversees NASA, that Bridenstein was too partisan and political to lead NASA. He also accused Bridenstine of not having the experience to do so.

“The head of NASA should be a space specialist, not a politician” Nelson said From Bridenstine, then a two-term congressman from Oklahoma.

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Bridenstein would have remained a respected space agency director, scarcely showing anything but a bipartisan partnership as he drove the space agency’s efforts in human exploration and scientific research.

There are now concerns among scientists that Nelson does not share Bridensten’s enthusiasm for the agency’s advancement as a whole or for scientific exploration. This is because, as a congressman from Florida, Nelson generally sought funding only for the Kennedy Space Center and programs like the SLS rocket, which used technology from the space shuttle era and supported local jobs.

When asked about her thoughts on Nelson as a potential NASA director, Lori Garver, who served as deputy space agency director during the Obama administration, was less enthusiastic. “Now is not the time to turn back the clock at NASA,” she said.

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