Biden picks ex-U.S. Senator Nelson as NASA chief: White House

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Joe Biden has tapped former U.S. senator and astronaut Bill Nelson to lead the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the White House said in a statement on Friday.

Nelson, a Democrat from Florida - home to NASA’s Kennedy Space Station in Cape Canaveral - must secure U.S. Senate approval to be confirmed in the post.

Nelson has long held a deep interest in NASA. He flew on the space shuttle Columbia in 1986 and currently serves on the NASA Advisory Council.

Nelson, who served three terms in the Senate, would take control of NASA as it seeks to return humans to the moon for the first time since the 1970s and expands its reliance on a commercial space industry.

Biden has agreed to continue a program, known as Artemis, that began under former President Donald Trump and aims to put astronauts on the moon by 2024, intended as a prelude to an even more ambitious human Mars landing in the future.

Nelson would succeed Jim Bridenstine, appointed by Trump, as NASA administrator.

Reporting by Susan Heavey, Steve Holland and David Shepardson; Editing by Dan Grebler