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Retired Fighter Pilot to Run NASA?

Then-Sen. Barack Obama spoke at a foreign policy forum with retired Air Force Gen. Scott Gration, right, in Des Moines, Iowa, in Dec. 2007. (Kevin Sanders/Associated Press)

By Joel Achenbach
A highly decorated fighter pilot, almost completely unknown to the space community, has emerged as the top candidate to run NASA, two sources close to the Obama transition team said today.

Retired Maj. Gen. Jonathan Scott Gration is close to President-Elect Obama, having served as a military adviser to him during the campaign. Gration spoke at the Democratic National Convention. His selection is not a done deal, the sources said, but a formal announcement could be made before the inauguration. Gration's name first surfaced Tuesday night on the Web site

What's certain is that Gration would give NASA a closer personal connection to the White House than it currently has under NASA Administrator Michael Griffin. Gration traveled with Obama on an extended senatorial trip to Africa and, despite having voted for George W. Bush in 2000, emerged a strong Obama advocate, at one point comparing him to Nelson Mandela.

"To see how Mandela saved his country by bridging racial, ethnic and in some cases cultural diversity, and turn a page from a turbulent time--I think that's sort of what the senator's doing," Gration told Newsweek in 2007.

Gration, who retired from the Air Force in 2006, may not know much about the space program, but he understands high-risk operations. His military biography states that he flew 274 missions over Iraq in the early 1990s and has more than 1,000 hours in combat and combat-related missions. He was in command of a unit at the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia when terrorists struck in 1996. He was on duty at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

Born in Africa where his parents were missionaries, Gration would likely be the first NASA administrator who speaks Swahili.

"He's not at all known to members of the space community," said space industry analyst John Logsdon. But Logsdon added that outsiders have often had success at NASA. Among them was James Webb, the fabled administrator during Apollo.

"What a difference it will make to have an Administrator who has a personal relationship with the President and will have his calls taken," opined one commenter this morning on the NASA Watch blog.

The Gration bulletin follows weeks of speculation as to the fate of Griffin and his likely replacement. One rumor held that Obama would select Charles Bolden, a retired Marine major general, but Bolden told The Post he hadn't been contacted by the Obama transition office -- and had never met Obama. More recently the name of Charles Kennel, former head of the Scripps Oceanographic Institution, made the rounds. Kennel would not comment.

In December a number of NASA employees, former employees and even Griffin's wife, Rebecca, signed a petition asking Obama to keep Griffin on the job. Griffin has said consistently that he assumes his resignation will take effect at noon Jan. 20. Griffin is due to hold an "all-hands" session with NASA employees Friday in what is expected to be a valedictory moment. Griffin will then depart for a prolonged ski vacation.

Of the lobbying on his behalf, Griffin told The Post, "I felt honored. And embarrassed at the same time. I really, really, really always wanted the job to be about the space program and not about me."

Griffin reiterated his strong feeling that NASA, not outsiders in the White House or Congress, should make the critical technical decisions on human spaceflight.

"If either White House staff or Congress starts to get into the launch vehicle design business, we're doomed. This is what NASA does."

By Lexie Verdon  |  January 14, 2009; 3:33 PM ET
Categories:  44 The Obama Presidency  
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Next: LaHood Confirmation Hearing Postponed


FYI, ET: Spain got the Queen's 'rocks' back when it busted Columbus in 1500 for being just another 'far-flung' scam artist.
Can't you think of a better way to spend NASA's FY2009 $17B budget and all subsequent ones in the future?

Honestly, how many billion-dollar pet, space-rocks do we need for your 'Air and Space' collection?

Seen one, ya seen them all, me thinks.

Posted by: lockmallup | January 14, 2009 7:45 PM | Report abuse

Part of NASA's problem is that they have been in the launcher design business, wasting time and money because they don't know how to do it very well. The Transportation Department is not in the truck design business; NASA should be doing basic science and engineering research, not designing and operating vehicles.

Posted by: raschumacher | January 14, 2009 7:43 PM | Report abuse

i just hope mister hip gyrations isn't going to put a bone through his nose and a big flat wooden board in his lower lip when he starts addressing us in swahili..

i don't think i could handle that.

Posted by: DriveByPoster | January 14, 2009 7:23 PM | Report abuse

it's funny how they phrased the story...

it reads, "Retired Maj. Gen. Jonathan Scott Gration is close to President-Elect Obama, having served as a military adviser to him during the campaign"


i can hear the conversations they had during the campaign

obama; "mister hip gyrations?"

gyrations; "yes mister obama?"

obama; "you are my military advisor while i am nothing right now. aaaaaaaand, is that correct?"

gyrations; "yes sir. you are nothing."

obama; "i see. aaaaaaaaand so, what should i do about russia?"

gyrations; "you can't do anything. you aren't president."

obama; "thank you, mister advisor. aaaaaaaaaand now, what should i do about north korea?"

gyrations; "nothing. you aren't president."

obama; "i see. aaaaaaaaaannd how much am i paying you?"

gyrations; "$250,000"

obama; "aaaaaaaaaand wonderful. so, mister hip gyrations, aaaaaaaand what should i do about sudan?"

gyrations; "nothing. you aren't president."

obama; "aaaaaaaaaaaand why do i need a military advisor?"

gyrations; "beats the hell out of me. i think axelrod said it makes you look important. it makes you look presidential. just like that custom presidential seal you had on your platform that day. that made you look.. well, it made you look presidential."

obama; "i see. but they laughed at that seal.

gyrations; "well, it was pretty silly looking."

obama; "i see. aaaaaaaaaaaaaand my last question for you. tell me mister military advisor. what do you recommend for waffles at IHOP?"

gyrations; "strawberry waffles with whipped cream and a splash of maple syrup as a dipper."

obama; "aaaaaaaaaamd that's an excellent choice. aaaaaaaaaaand i'm glad i have you as my military advisor, aaaaaaaand i say that because i might need your expert advice if my fork ever attacks my coffee spoon."

hip gyrations; "i'm just doing my job.. just doing my job."

Posted by: DriveByPoster | January 14, 2009 7:17 PM | Report abuse


the new head of nasa doesn't know anything about the space industry.

why should he? we have a mental case former first lady who thinks snipers were chasing her and her daughter around a bosnian airport as our secretary of state.

we have a tax evader who is going to be the secretary of treasury.

obama has a chief of staff who has ties to reznik, blagojevich, and probably even friggin al capone hilself.

so, who CARES that the new head of NASA's only experience is being a waffle taste tester at IHOP???

i certainly don't. hire donald duck's three nephews as american ambassadors to china, russia, and pakistan for all i care.

Posted by: DriveByPoster | January 14, 2009 7:04 PM | Report abuse

Finally, a NASA administrator who's competent in Swahili! Though if we're going to continue launching interplanetary probes with blurbs on them, we might want to make Sanskrit a qualification as well.

Posted by: officermancuso | January 14, 2009 6:45 PM | Report abuse

Too bad that you didn't live in the 15th Century. Queen Isabel would still have her jewelry.

Posted by: hisroc | January 14, 2009 6:24 PM | Report abuse

What the Hell? I thought that Blago's potty-mouthed wife was supposed to get appointed to NASA after the smoke cleared?

Posted by: hisroc | January 14, 2009 6:20 PM | Report abuse

In light of our government's overall malfeasance, NASA should be mothballed. Enough of these silly, billion-dollar joy rides at taxpayers' expense.

Posted by: lockmallup | January 14, 2009 6:16 PM | Report abuse

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