The new NASA administrator is enthusiastic about fighting climate change and diversifying the agency’s workforce but is unsure if the US will be able to land astronauts on the moon by 2024.
Former Senator Bill Nelson told The Associated Press on Friday that monitoring climate change is a top priority in his first interview since becoming NASA’s top official this week. He also needs the space agency’s staff to be more representative of America.
Nelson said the target of landing astronauts on the moon remains 2024, a deadline set by the Trump administration. However, he warns that space is difficult and that he needs more time to consider the situation, especially in light of a contract dispute over a 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”.
Mr. Nelson said that he did not apply for the role of NASA Administrator and that he had recommended three women to lead the agency. He told the Biden administration that he would consider the nomination only if one of the women, former space shuttle commander Pam Melroy, could serve as his deputy.
Mr. Nelson, 78, is NASA’s 14th administrator, the first to grow up in the shadow of rockets and the third to travel in space. Vice President Kamala Harris, who will lead the National Space Council, swore him in on Monday.
The two previous administrators, representing the Obama and Trump administrations, attended the ceremony as a sign of bipartisan support for space. Mr. Nelson takes over as NASA’s director after 44 years of public service, 42 of which were spent in elected positions.
Mr. Nelson grew up near Cape Canaveral and graduated 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 Vietnam War as a member of the US Army Reserve.
After serving in the Florida legislature for a few years, Mr. Nelson, a Democrat, was elected to Congress, first in the House and then the Senate, until succumbing to a loss in 2018. Mr. Nelson was a congressman when, in January 1986, he launched into orbit on the space shuttle Columbia, just two weeks after the Challenger astronauts died during liftoff.