Former U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida sworn in as new head of NASA

    Former Florida Sen. Bill Nelson will head NASAx after being sworn in Monday. He stood next to his wife, his two children, and a piece of moon rock collected during the Apollo 16 mission as Vice President Kamala Harris swore him in.

    WASHINGTON — Former Florida Sen. Bill Nelson launched into his new gig on Monday, when Vice President Kamala Harris swore him in to serve as the new NASA administrator.

    Standing next to his wife, his two children, and a piece of moon rock collected during the Apollo 16 mission, the 78-year-old Nelson expressed gratitude over being tapped for the post, and declared it to be “a new day in space.”

    “To have the president and vice president have this kind of confidence in an old buddy from the Senate is indeed one of the high honors that anyone could have,” he said after Harris administered the oath.

    Nelson, a Democrat, was elected to the Senate in 2000 and served as the chairman or ranking member of the Senate Space and Science Subcommittee. Before that, he worked on space policy in the U.S. House and was serving as a congressman when he flew on space shuttle Columbia in January 1986.

    He was a U.S. senator until 2019, after losing to then-Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, in a close contest.

    His nomination to lead the federal space agency sailed through the Senate confirmation process, garnering a friendly reception from his former colleagues during a committee hearing and a unanimous voice vote on the Senate floor.

    At Monday’s ceremony, Nelson was joined in person by one former NASA administrator, Charles Bolden, who led the agency during the Obama administration, and virtually by Jim Bridenstine, who did so during the Trump administration.

    Nelson said he wanted the past two administrators on hand “to show the continuity and the bipartisanship with which you run the nation’s space program.”

    Harris congratulated Nelson and echoed his call for a nonpartisan approach to space policy, saying the program “has to be about our nation and what is best for our nation.”

    A fifth-generation Floridian, Nelson grew up near Cape Canaveral. He served in public office for more than four decades, including in the Florida Legislature, in Congress, and as state treasurer.

    Laura Olson
    Laura covers the nation's capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom, a network of nonprofit outlets that includes Georgia Recorder. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections, and campaign finance.