Wednesday, January 14, 2009

NASA's new head

Retired Major General Scott Gration
Image Credit: United States European Command

According to news reports this morning, President-Elect Obama has asked Retired Air Force Major General Scott Gration (pictured above) to be the next head of NASA.

I know nothing about General Gration other than what is stated in the article. It worries me somewhat (well, a fair amount) that he has very little prior experience with NASA, but that doesn't mean he is unqualified for the job, and he may well do a super job as NASA's chief administrator. The job is much more than just deciding whether we should go to the moon, send a robot to Mars, or build a new space telescope. It's a bureaucratically intensive position, with NASA centers spread across the nation, each with their own pieces of turf they like to defend. That requires skills no astronomy or aerospace engineering course will ever teach someone.

Perhaps I should be more concerned, but at the moment, I think the government's hands are full with economic, political, and international crises. So far (as evidenced by his campaign), Obama and his advisers have done a pretty good job of filling positions with excellent people, so I'm going to trust their judgement. Time will tell if this is a good choice.

In spite of the flack he's taken, I'd like to thank outgoing NASA administrator Michael Griffin for his efforts and vision over the past four years. I may not have agreed with everything he said or with his extended vision for the space agency, but he did work hard to advance NASA's case, he got the agency started on major new projects -- beyond just giving lip service to some nebulous new idea, he got the ball rolling on the Constellation program, to the point where hardware is being produced and tested. That's hard to do in just four years!

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