Bill Nelson, whose full name is Clarence William Nelson, was born on September 29, 1942, in Miami, Florida, U.S. He is an American Democrat who was a senator from Florida from 2001 to 2019. He was in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1979 to 1991. Nelson was the second member of Congress to go to space while still in office (1986). In 2021, he was put in charge of NASA.
Nelson got his bachelor's degree in political science from Yale University in 1965. In 1968, he got his J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law. He became a lawyer in Florida in the same year. He was a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve for six years, from 1965 to 1971, and was on active duty for two years, from 1968 to 1970. Nelson became a lawyer in Melbourne, Florida, in 1970. In 1971, he worked as a legislative assistant for Gov. Reubin Askew. In 1972, he ran for office and was elected to the Florida House of Representatives. He also married Grace Cavert that year, and they had two children together. From 1973 to 1979, he was a member of the state legislature. As a Democrat, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1978. From 1979 to 1991, he represented Florida's 9th and 11th congressional districts for six terms.
Nelson started training to be an astronaut at the Johnson Space Center in Houston in September 1985. At the time, he was chair of the House space subcommittee. On January 12, 1986, he was a payload specialist on the STS-61C mission aboard the Columbia space shuttle. During the six-day flight, the seven-person crew launched a communications satellite and did several experiments in materials processing and astrophysics, such as an infrared imaging experiment and a hand-held protein crystal growth experiment. On January 18, 1986, STS-61C came back to Earth.
Nelson ran for Florida governor in 1990, but he lost the Democratic Party primary. In 1994, he was chosen to be Treasurer, Insurance Commissioner, and Fire Marshal of Florida. He worked there until November 2000, when he was elected to the U.S. Senate. The next year, he became president.
Nelson became known as a liberal while he was in Congress. He was for abortion rights and gun control, and in 2010 he voted to end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the U.S. policy that kept openly gay men and women from serving in the military. In 2013, he also said he was in favor of same-sex marriage. In terms of money, he liked the idea of raising taxes on the rich and raising the federal minimum wage. Nelson was also interested in the effects of climate change on his home state.
Nelson was easily re-elected in 2006 and 2010, but it was harder for him to get a fourth term in 2018, when he ran against Gov. Rick Scott and a very split electorate. In the end, the close election had to be re-counted, and Nelson lost by a small margin. In January 2019, he gave up his job. Two years later, U.S. President Joe Biden put him forward to be the head of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). In April, the Senate unanimously approved Nelson's nomination.