WASHINGTON — Former Sen. Bill Nelson is only one step away from becoming NASA's new administrator.

What You Need To Know

On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee voted unanimously by voice vote to favorably pass Nelson's nomination to the full Senate for a vote. 

"I think you all know Sen. Nelson, and how much we respect him," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the committee chairperson, "And how excited he is."

It's expected that his nomination will be confirmed before the Senate, but a vote has not been scheduled yet.

Nelson spoke before the committee earlier this month, testifying that he would continue a key space program put in place by the Trump Administration during his confirmation hearing to become the next head of NASA.

While President Joe Biden has been moving to discard many of former President Donald Trump’s policies, Nelson made clear the new administration is moving ahead with Trump’s goal of putting humans back on the moon and eventually landing astronauts on Mars.

However, concerns remain about NASA’s timeline. NASA’s Inspector General wrote in a recent report that it is “highly unlikely” NASA will achieve its goal landing astronauts on the Moon by the end of 2024.

“The timetable is still there with the awardee and I think we all have to recognize that space is hard and it’s an ambitious timetable,” Nelson said in response to a question asking about the Artemis Program. 

The former Florida senator was on familiar ground Wednesday, receiving a warm welcome back to the very committee on which he served as a ranking member.

“I can’t think of a better American alive to serve in this role,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, who introduced Nelson at the confirmation hearing. 

A longtime advocate for the space program, Nelson has the additional experience of actually flying aboard a space shuttle as a member of Congress. 

“If you ask me what my vision for the future of NASA is to continue for us to explore the heavens with humans and with machines,” Nelson said in his opening statement.

Last week the agency awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract to build the spacecraft to land astronauts on the moon, leading some lawmakers to question why the funds went to a single company instead of two.

“I want to know that you’ll commit to providing Congress with a plan to assure that kind of resiliency out of the human lander program,” Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington asked Nelson.

Nelson acknowledged that competition is always good.

In his new role, Nelson would have to consider NASA’s interests first before Florida, industry experts, though, believe the state stands to benefit. 

“He grew up here on the space coast. If you spend any time with him at all, you will hear the story about his grandfather squatting on land out there near the shuttle landing facility,” said Dale Ketcham with Space Florida. 

"You can take the boy out of Florida, but I don’t think you’re going to get Florida out of the boy,” he added.

Once confirmed, the real work for Nelson will begin. His first order of business will be lobbying his colleagues on Capitol Hill for more cash on behalf of the agency.