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Bill Nelson. Photo: Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images

Former Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) was unanimously confirmed by Senate on Thursday to serve as head of NASA.

The big picture: As NASA administrator, Nelson will lead the agency as it works to send astronauts back to the Moon, which would pave the way for an eventual Mars mission.

Our thought bubble, via Axios' Miriam Kramer: Nelson has long been a major supporter of NASA, but his nomination was somewhat controversial within the space industry, with some suggesting that his past critical comments about commercial spaceflight are worrying.

  • During his confirmation hearing, however, Nelson made clear that he wants to support NASA’s relationship with the industry.
  • Nelson will be responsible for working with the agency's commercial partners to fly astronauts to the International Space Station.

The big picture: The NASA administrator position has historically been filled by scientists, former astronauts and business people, but the role has increasingly become more political.

  • "Nelson and President Biden have worked together in the Senate and reportedly have a close relationship, meaning Nelson may be able to make sure the agency gets Biden's attention," Miriam Kramer writes.

Go deeper

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Aug 3, 2021 - Science

Why the space race is worth running

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Billionaires, not governments, are the contestants in the new space race. Their competition is drawing criticism and eye rolling — and sparking debate about whether it actually benefits the rest of us.

The big picture: International and corporate competition have been a part of the space industry since the launch of Sputnik nearly 65 years ago.

At least 3 dead after Amtrak train derails in Montana

Photo: Jacob Cordeiro/Twitter

An Amtrak train derailed near Joplin, Montana, resulting in at least three deaths and multiple injuries to passengers and crew on Saturday, per authorities and a company statement.

The big picture: 141 passengers and 16 crew members were estimated to be traveling on the westbound Empire Builder train from Chicago to Seattle and Portland when eight of the 10 cars derailed about 4p.m., Amtrak said early Sunday.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Federal judge blocks vaccine mandate for NYC teachers

Students are dismissed from the first day of school at PS 133 in Brooklyn on Sept. 13. Photo: Michael Nagle/Xinhua via Getty Images

A federal appeals court is set to hear a challenge Wednesday to a vaccine mandate planned for New York City school employees.

Why it matters The vaccine mandate was set to begin on Monday, prompting concerns over staffing shortages in schools across the nation's largest school system. But a judge on Friday temporarily blocked the measure, per AP.