The White House nominated Pam Melroy, a former NASA astronaut who later worked for the FAA and DARPA, to be NASA deputy administrator April 16. Credit: NASA

Updated 8 p.m. Eastern with comments by Beyer and Bridenstine.

WASHINGTON — The White House announced April 16 it will nominate former astronaut Pam Melroy to be NASA’s deputy administrator.

Melroy’s nomination was one of eight the White House announced to fill positions across the government. The position will require confirmation by the Senate.

Melroy will be second-in-command of the agency, behind Bill Nelson, the former senator nominated by the White House March 19 to be the agency’s administrator. Nelson will testify at a Senate Commerce Committee confirmation hearing for his nomination April 21, and is expected to easily win later confirmation by the full Senate.

“It’s a great honor to be nominated by President Biden to support Sen. Nelson and help lead NASA. The agency is critical in America’s fight to combat climate change and maintain leadership in space,” Melroy said in a NASA statement about her nomination.

“I believe that Pam Melroy will be a great partner to help lead NASA,” Nelson said in the same statement. “Pam has the long-standing technical and leadership experience that will help NASA on its mission to explore the cosmos, expand climate change research and ensure NASA-developed technologies benefit life here on Earth.”

Melroy, who served on the incoming Biden administration’s NASA transition team, had been considered a leading candidate to be nominated for NASA administrator. Once the White House announced it would nominate Nelson, she emerged as the likely choice to be deputy administrator. Melroy was also considered a candidate for NASA deputy administrator in 2013 after the departure of Lori Garver, but the Obama administration instead nominated Dava Newman, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Melroy, a U.S. Air Force test pilot, was part of the 1994 NASA astronaut class. She flew as a pilot on the STS-92 and STS-112 shuttle missions in 2000 and 2002, respectively. She commanded the STS-120 shuttle mission in 2007, becoming only the second woman, after Eileen Collins, to command a shuttle mission. All three missions were devoted to assembly of the International Space Station.

She left NASA in 2009 and worked for Lockheed Martin before returning to government. She served as deputy associate administrator for the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation and then deputy director of the Tactical Technology Office for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Most recently, she had been working as a consultant, including supporting the new Australian Space Agency. She also served on the National Space Council’s Users’ Advisory Group.

As with Nelson’s nomination, the White House’s nomination of Melroy won widespread praise. “This is an excellent selection by the president. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to give this nomination swift consideration so that NASA can get a confirmed leadership team at this pivotal moment,” Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), chairman of the House space subcommittee, said in a statement.

“I’m extremely pleased to see that the Biden administration has nominated Colonel Pam Melroy for NASA deputy administrator,” former NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement. “Pam is a friend, and I believe her experience as an Air Force test pilot, deputy director of the Tactical Technology Office at DARPA, and space shuttle commander will serve her well as NASA returns to the Moon under the Artemis program. I urge the Senate to confirm her swiftly.”

In the NASA statement, Melroy was enthusiastic about returning the agency as its deputy administrator. “This year, NASA will embark on the first human deep space exploration program since Apollo, launch the James Webb Space Telescope, test the first all-electric X-plane and further technologies to take humans to Mars,” she said. “And the way to do it is as a team that honors diversity in every dimension!”

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...