NASA’s Nelson’s: Astronauts no longer exclusive to white men

TALLAHASSEE (AP) — Being an astronaut is no longer an exclusive club of white men, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said Friday while telling students that the first woman and first person of color will be landing on the moon soon.

Nelson told a group of middle school students and Florida A&M-Florida State College of Engineering students that unlike the Apollo missions to the moon, the return under the Artemis Program will be lead by a diverse group of astronauts.

“The astronaut corps looks a lot different. They’re not all white male test pilots, Now they’re women and they’re people of color and they’re PhDs and they’re medical doctors and they’re scientists,” Nelson said. “It’s faces just like your faces. The faces of America.”

The students applauded enthusiastically at the idea.

Nelson, 79, was serving as a Democratic congressman when he launched aboard space shuttle Columbia on Jan. 12, 1986. He later served three terms in the U.S. Senate.

Nelson talked about using moon dust as a material to make concrete and build structures on the moon. He envisioned it as a “gas station” for rockets on missions to Mars, tapping into frozen water on the orb’s south pole and converting it to hydrogen and oxygen for fuel.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Nelson said the recent rocket flights to space by billionaires Elon Musk, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, combined with images from the Mars rover, have created a new excitement about space.

“There has been unusual press attention to these things … That galvanizes America’s attention and gets them excited about space,” Nelson said. “The novelty of these space tourists going up in an automated SpaceX capsule, all of that combined is an addition to making space more accessible to the average Joe.”

Though he said the average Joe won’t be going up in space any time soon.

“It’s going to be a long time because it’s still expensive to go into space, but you’ve got to start somewhere,” Nelson said.