A week after Sen. Bill Nelson was credited with running off the Obama administration's top pick for the nation's space program, the former astronaut's own favorite for the job, Charles Bolden, is expected to be named to the position.
Bolden, who meets with Obama today, would be the first NASA administrator who is black, and he also flew a space mission with Nelson. But the real reason Nelson likes him is because Bolden's said to be a supporter of manned missions to space, which keep jobs at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. That aspect of the space program has been assailed by critics who charge that NASA's politics are interfering with its scientific mission, and Nelson has made himself a popular target.
There's also concern about whether Bolden can make a dispassionate decision about the Constellation project, a module that would replace the shuttle after it's retired next year. Constellation is so far over budget that some argue NASA should simply cut its losses. Bolden has ties to companies with a stake in Constellation, of which Nelson is also a supporter.
How strongly was Nelson pushing for Bolden? From the Orlando Sentinel:
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According to administration officials, Nelson even went so far as to tell the White House recently that if Bolden were not nominated soon, the White House could no longer count on his support for the president's initiatives in the Senate.
"Nelson's got an iron will and ... fights not only insistently but also consistently for America's space program and for Cape Kennedy," said his spokesman, Dan McLaughlin.