Nelson promised, when nominated, to “help lead NASA into an exciting future of possibilities.” The space agency is working to send astronauts back to the moon this decade.
“Its workforce radiates optimism, ingenuity and a can-do spirit,” Nelson said. “The NASA team continues to achieve the seemingly impossible as we venture into the cosmos.”
Nelson, 78, grew up near Cape Canaveral and was serving as a Democratic congressman when he launched aboard space shuttle Columbia on Jan. 12, 1986. His commander was Charles Bolden Jr., who later served as NASA administrator under President Barack Obama — at Nelson’s urging.
Just 10 days after their flight ended, the space shuttle Challenger failed shortly after liftoff and all seven astronauts were killed.
Nelson, who has a law degree and is a former captain in the U.S. Army Reserve, served six terms in the House of Representatives from 1979 to 1991. He was elected in 2000 to the Senate, where he served until his defeat in 2018 by former Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
AP Aerospace Writer Marcia Dunn contributed to this report.