Dava Newman speaking at an MIT event in October 2014. Credit: MIT Parents Association via Flickr

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate voted unanimously April 27 to confirm Dava Newman as NASA’s deputy administrator, more than six months after the university professor was nominated to the post.

The Senate voted 87–0 to confirm Newman after a brief floor debate about the nomination. Only two senators spoke during the debate, both in favor of Newman’s nomination.

“Administrator [Charles] Bolden does not have a deputy, and he needs a deputy administrator,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). He said in his comments on the Senate floor that NASA “sifted through hundreds of names” before choosing Newman.

“We need a professional in there to help Gen. Bolden along with his very dedicated team,” Nelson said. “We should confirm her today.”

The only other senator to speak in favor of Newman’s nomination was Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who noted that Newman was a native of Montana. “I know she will lead with honor and is prepared for whatever challenges may lie ahead,” he said in brief remarks.

The vote was welcomed by both Bolden and Newman. “I am personally ecstatic to welcome her aboard at such a busy and exciting time,” Bolden said in a NASA statement issued shortly after the vote.

“It’s an enormous honor to serve at NASA in times when our country is extending humanity’s reach into space while strengthening American leadership here on Earth,” Newman said in the same statement.

The White House initially nominated Newman, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to the position Oct. 16. The administration resubmitted the nomination Jan. 8 after the new Congress convened. The Senate Commerce Committee favorably reported the nomination out of committee on March 25 on a voice vote, without discussion.

In recent weeks, Bolden had made more of a public case for the Senate to confirm Newman. He mentioned the pending nomination at a March 12 hearing of the Senate Commerce space subcommittee, which Newman attended. He also told the NASA Advisory Council at an April 9 meeting that he planned to meet with the Senate’s Republican leadership to request a confirmation vote for Newman.

Prior to the nomination, Newman was best known for her spaceflight research, including development of advanced spacesuit concepts. She served on the technical panel that supported the National Research Council’s Committee on Human Spaceflight during its work on a report completed last year outlining several “pathways” for human space exploration.

Newman also served on the National Research Council’s Space Studies Board. She attended a meeting of the board in Washington April 22–23 but kept a low profile during the public portions of the two-day meeting.

NASA, in its statement about the confirmation, did not indicate when Newman would be formally sworn in as deputy administrator. The position has been vacant since Lori Garver left the agency in September 2013.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...