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Who Will Serve as NASA Administrator?

By Ed O'Keefe

President Obama will speak with Shuttle Discovery astronauts today as they wrap up a series of spacewalks high above. But they still don't have a boss back here on Earth.

"I will soon be appointing a new NASA director," Obama recently told a group of reporters from regional newspapers. "I think it's important for the long term vibrancy of our space program to think through what NASA's core mission is, and what the next great adventures and discoveries are under the NASA banner."

Two weeks since that statement however, there's still no NASA chief and two candidates once believed to be finalists have been tapped for other government jobs: Steve Isakowitz was reappointed chief financial officer at the Energy Department and retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Scott Gration will serve as a special envoy to Sudan.

The retirement of the space shuttle is one of several policy concerns that appear on the Government Accountability Office's "most urgent issues list," and also one of the biggest challenges that will face whomever Obama chooses to fill the administrator position. (Obama has named at least 115 people to positions thus far, but only a few to jobs the GAO considers "critical and time sensitive." The Eye will explore similar vacancies in the coming days, conveying the "shop talk," speculation and analysis on each job.)

Concerned lawmakers wrote to the president last week about the lack of a NASA administrator, stating: "The agency’s work is linked to larger issues facing our country such as national security, climate change and American competitiveness. Currently, NASA faces numerous time-sensitive challenges and needs decisive leadership." (Full letter after the jump.)

The bipartisan group, led by Reps. Suzanne Kosmas (D-Fla.) and Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), is most concerned with the fate of thousands of jobs tied to the space program, especially as the space shuttle retirement nears.

"As you know, this issue is linked to our economic recovery since the gap could result in layoffs for several thousand highly skilled aerospace engineers and technicians over the next two years."

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), a former astronaut, has consulted the White House on the job and has expressed a preference for former astronaut Charlie Bolden, who served as co-pilot on the Jan. 1986 shuttle mission that Nelson flew as a payload specialist.

“Charlie has made life or death calls sitting as the pilot or co-pilot on four shuttle trips," said Nelson's spokesman Dan McLaughlin. "He’s been there and he’s done that.” (There was some speculation early on that Bolden -- who would be the first African American to head the agency -- would be the pick.)

Still, “When you consider that the president has a global economic crisis, bank bailouts and two wars, it doesn’t seem like six weeks is too long a time to go through the process to go through an administrator for NASA," McLaughlin said.

Indeed the White House would not say when Obama will name a new NASA administrator. Whoever it is will have to take into account the sentiments he expressed during that interview with regional reporters:

"I think it's fair to say that there's been a sense of drift to our space program over the last several years. We need to restore that sense of excitement and interest that existed around the space program. And shaping a mission for NASA that is appropriate for the 21st century is going to be one of the biggest tasks of my new NASA director."

Who should Obama pick as NASA administrator? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

The Eye on Twitter! | Track Obama nominees on Head Count

Bipartisan Letter Expressing Need for an Administrator Who Will Minimize the Spaceflight Gap

Dear President Obama:

We write to you as Members of Congress with an abiding interest in the important contributions of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). NASA has been a leading catalyst for innovation and technology development and has enjoyed over 50 years of broad public interest and strong bipartisan political support. The agency’s work is linked to larger issues facing our country such as national security, climate change and American competitiveness. Currently, NASA faces numerous time-sensitive challenges and needs decisive leadership.

One of the most important issues facing NASA and our nation is the impending retirement of the Space Shuttle, and the subsequent five year gap in independent U.S. access to the International Space Station before the Ares 1 and Orion systems can be deployed. This issue has been identified by the Government Accountability Office as one of thirteen ‘urgent’ items for your administration to address. As you know, this issue is linked to our economic recovery since the gap could result in layoffs for several thousand highly skilled aerospace engineers and technicians over the next two years.

We believe it is imperative for NASA to have a leader who understands the implications of a five year or longer hiatus in America’s independent access to space. The new NASA Administrator should grasp the broad strategic and international aspects of NASA’s mission, as well as the technical, budgetary and programmatic tradeoffs that lie ahead. We urge you to keep these issues in mind as you search for a NASA Administrator candidate with the right background, integrity and focus on minimizing the spaceflight gap and preserving the agency’s cutting edge science and aeronautics programs. Maintaining a focused policy and providing the necessary funding to allow NASA to succeed are essential to the technological advances and scientific discoveries that benefit all Americans.

We fully recognize the difficult challenges our nation faces, and we believe that a focused and properly funded NASA can aid our national economy and contribute to our shared goals of sustaining our technological edge and competing on a global stage.

We look forward to working with you and a new Administrator to ensure a robust, successful NASA. We stand ready to work together with you and continue providing the nation’s civilian space and aeronautics agency our steadfast support.

Thank you for your attention to this important issue.


Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL)
Ken Calvert (R-CA)
Robert Aderholt (R-AL)
John Culberson (R-TX)
Al Green (D-TX)
Parker Griffith (D-AL)
Ralph Hall (R-TX)
Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX)
Michael McCaul (R-TX)
Pete Olson (R-TX)
Bill Posey (R-FL)
Adam Schiff (D-CA)
Lamar Smith (R-TX)
Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL)

Source: Office of Rep. Suzanne Kosmas

By Ed O'Keefe  | March 24, 2009; 6:10 AM ET
Categories:  Administration  
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What we need an a NASA chief administrator is someone who is a supporter of lean and mean science. Not someone who is married to manned spaceflight to mars, nor to the cheapest way to do things. this person has to have the knowledge and ability to navigate washington AND the engineering mindsets, AND the lobbyists. Its a political and economic minefield but the next head administrator has to be adept at going foreward and not making mistakes.
We could use some of the management from DHARPA, which creates projects on a well defined timeline and budget.
Some of what NASA does must remain pure science with no predefined purpose, but there is also plenty of that to be had in every flight because of what is discovered unexpectedly. Some of what NASA needs are projects that are targeted towards new industries for american jobs which are leaving faster than we can create them. There should be projects that are non military but are completely seperate from the interrnational space station, so that what we create will not be stolen or borrowed before we can even make use of it. we should find a way to recycle satellites in orbit and retrofit them. this might save tremendously on resources and money. We should work on currently relevent projects like space manufacturing and nanotechnology. we need a visionary leader of NASA, who doesnt lose the vision or the legacy, yet can make due with limited budgets. What we dont need is a Griffin, who cancelled the hubble space telescope without a replacement up in orbit. we need a cheaper space shuttle, combined with a seperate cargo rocket. like fedex and an airline, we dont need to ship people and cargo on the same rocket. we can get people up in space more safely and cheaply if we can do it lighter. we need to develop robots that can do what we can do in space. we need a moon colony that can be cheaply developed. we need to put real resource into SETI. We need to test quantum entanglement laser communication in space, which will reduce the time it takes for communication to one half the distance between a single serial beamsplitter/emmitter, no matter how many of them are lined up or are orbiting a planet or even the sun. The projects that need to be pursued by NASA are the most cutting edge on this planet, stretching the mind of science. NASA cant just cater to school children. we need tangible projects that create jobs also.

Posted by: healnghanz | March 24, 2009 11:39 AM | Report abuse

President Bush’s manned mission to Mars was a smoke screen to siphon away funding the earth sciences program at NASA. Bush picked an arbitrary date of 2010 to retire the Space Shuttle and this decision will leave the US without the capability to launch humans into space for at least five years. President Obama agreed to the 2010 retirement leaving the US wholly dependant upon the Russians to get crews to and from the International Space Station (IIS).

A visionary course for Obama’s new administrator is to keep the shuttle flying until a replace manned spacecraft is built. A reusable space plane is needed to get humans to low earth orbit and a heavy lift booster is needed to orbit 100+ tons. Delay return to the moon in favor of increase spending on Earth science programs.

Posted by: DesertLeap | March 24, 2009 12:25 PM | Report abuse

believe it or not... but, I (yes, "I") am the RIGHT MAN for NASA since I'm the most CREATIVE and RATIONAL mind to drive the US space agency... :) (just read my blog to discover WHY) but, unfortunately, I'm not american, I'm not a NASA guy, I'm not an aerospace engineer, I can't come in America now, my english is not so good and (also) I'll have a (possible) "conflict of interests" since I want to start-up (as soon as possible) my own NewSpaceAgency... so, I'll NEVER become the NASA administrator... :(

Posted by: gaetanomarano | March 24, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse

desmondfarrelly wrote:
A new monetary unit, one which could be utilized and backed by collective regional strength is what is needed here today in order to regain our economic prominence and ensure lasting stability in the global economic forum.
3/24/2009 1:53:48 PM


LOL…Desmond, long sentences and Random Capitalization doesn’t make you sound any more intelligent.

No one is going to get rid of the dollar in favor of a “new monetary unit.” Nobody is going to make a North American version of the Euro or a Western Hemisphere version of the whatever.

That said, I would like to propose a new currency that can be o=used only by the right wing: the Mikey. Named after ekim53, the Mikey would weight 450 pounds, smell bad, be made of leather, and have no value as legal tender, but you could throw it at things you don’t like.


The 2010 data isn't arbitary at all. The Shuttle is old. Our failure to plan for a replacement leaves us with an expensive and vulnerable spacecraft, and we'll be lucky if there isn't another disaster before those museum pieces finally land for good.

Posted by: Attucks | March 24, 2009 2:14 PM | Report abuse

Ideally, it will be someone who seeks to develop the material and energetic resources of near-Earth space: asteroid minerals and space-based solar power.

For the billions of dollars that the American public invests in NASA, they should expect, and receive, a real return. "Exploration" is fine entertainment, but we need to make resource development a top priority for our national space policy.

For more on asteroid mining, see:

William BC Crandall
President & Director
Abundant Planet

Posted by: WilliamCrandall | March 24, 2009 5:38 PM | Report abuse

John W. Young is the man for the job,



Posted by: hewlettdesignconsultyahoocom | March 25, 2009 2:08 PM | Report abuse

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