Biden picks former senator who flew in space to lead NASA

FILE - In this Nov. 13, 2018 file photo, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., attends a news conference at the Capitol in Washington.  President Joe Biden has chosen Nelson, a former senator from Florida who flew on the space shuttle to lead NASA. Biden announced his intent Friday, March 19, 2021.(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 13, 2018 file photo, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., attends a news conference at the Capitol in Washington. President Joe Biden has chosen Nelson, a former senator from Florida who flew on the space shuttle to lead NASA. Biden announced his intent Friday, March 19, 2021.(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) (Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – President Joe Biden has chosen a former senator from Florida who flew on the space shuttle right before the Challenger accident to lead NASA.

Biden on Friday announced his intent to nominate Bill Nelson as the space agency's administrator.

If confirmed by the Senate, Nelson will become NASA’s 14th administrator, succeeding another former member of Congress, Jim Bridenstine, a Republican from Oklahoma. Nelson currently serves on the NASA Advisory Council.

Nelson promised, if confirmed, to “help lead NASA into an exciting future of possibilities.” The space agency is working to send astronauts back to the moon this decade and counting more than ever on private U.S. companies and even other countries to get that job — and others — done.

“Its workforce radiates optimism, ingenuity and a can-do spirit,” Nelson said in a statement. “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, Challenger was destroyed 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 U.S. 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.