CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — President Joe Biden has picked a former senator from Florida who flew on the shuttle before the Challenger accident to direct NASA.

Biden on Friday declared his intent to nominate Bill Nelson as the area agency’s administrator.

Nelson promised, if confirmed, to”assist lead NASA into an exciting future of possibilities.” The area agency is working to send astronauts back to the moon this decade and counting more than ever on personal U.S. companies as well as other nations to find that job — along with others — done.

“Its workforce awakens optimism, creativity and a can-do spirit,” Nelson said in a statement. “The NASA group continues to achieve the seemingly impossible as we venture to the cosmos.”

Nelson, 78, grew up near Cape Canaveral and has been serving as a Democratic congressman when he launched aboard space shuttle Columbia on Jan. 12, 1986. His commander has been Charles Bolden Jr., who later served as NASA administrator under President Barack Obama — in Nelson’s urging.

Only 10 days following their flight stopped, Challenger was destroyed soon after liftoff and all seven astronauts were killed.

Nelson, with a law degree and is a former captain at the U.S. Army Reserve, served six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1979 to 1991. He was elected in 2000 into the Senate, where he served until his defeat at 2018 by former Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

In 2017, Nelson criticized Bridenstine’s nomination from President Donald Trump, saying the chief of NASA shouldn’t be political but instead nonpartisan.

Bridenstine instead offered type praise Friday and advocated Nelson’s affirmation”without delay”

In a declaration, Bridenstine stated Nelson has the political clout to manage the White House and Congress, along with the diplomatic abilities to lead an global effort to send astronauts back to the moon and on to Mars. He also has”the influence to deliver strong budgets for NASA.”

Members of Congress already are expressing support for Nelson.

“There has been no greater champion, not just for Florida’s space industry, but for the space program as a whole than Bill,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, said in a statement. “His nomination gives me confidence that the Biden government finally comprehends the significance of the Artemis (moon landing) program, and also the requirement for winning the 21st century space race.”

This is a crucial period for NASA as momentum accelerates in the commercial space program.

SpaceX is going to launch its third flight of astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA; Boeing is expected to start making crew deliveries after this season. Space station distribution runs, meanwhile, have been handled by private businesses under contract to NASA for nearly a decade.

At the same time, NASA is teaming up with private organizations to launch experiments and equipment to the moon, and additionally lunar landers that could deliver astronauts to the surface. Just Thursday, NASA conducted a successful test firing of the center stage of its SLS moon rocket — the Space Launch System.

The new moonshot program is called Artemis following the twin sister of Apollo, and plans to incorporate a woman on its very first moon landing.

Some space observers had hoped to see that the first woman at NASA’s helm.

“It’s time for a female administrator. Lots of qualified candidates,” retired shuttle manager and program manager Wayne Hale tweeted previously this month. He’s also a part of the NASA Advisory Council.

She’s rooting for former space shuttle commander Pam Melroy for the No. 2 spot.