Griffin cleans house

Earlier this week Craig Steidle, NASA associate administrator for exploration, told his employees that he was planning to leave the agency by the end of the month. His departure was prompted by a planned reassignment to an unspecified position at a field center, which Steidle turned down. This looks like it may be the first in a wave of reassignments or resignations as new NASA administrator Michael Griffin seeks to put his own stamp on the agency: reports that other officials expected to leave in the near future include deputy administrator Fred Gregory, associate administrators Al Diaz and Bill Readdy, and deputy associate administrator Michael Kostelnik, who oversees the ISS program. Others are also expected to leave in the near future. At what point does the standard reorganization of officials during a change of leadership become something more like a purge?

21 comments to Griffin cleans house

  • Dfens

    It seems like this was done not too many years ago without any success under Goldin’s watch (faster, better, cheaper, it’s just a slogan). It seems to me NASA already has too many excellent technical people as managers. They take top scientists and put them into jobs they are neither qualified for nor interested in. NASA loses twice. They no longer have their top technical people doing technical jobs, and these same people are making those working for them miserable because they suck as managers.

  • serris

    I just hope he doesn’t surround himself with yes-men perfectly aligned with his ideas, and exclusively techie wizards with no room left for economical and managerial expertise. Also, debate and criticism is good (if it doesn’t become a purpose onto itself).

    The thing I find strange… has there been a single critique of Griffin’s approaches (like Goldin being called “tyrant”, or O’Keefe – “bean counter”, etc…)? There seems to be universal admiration in the space community. Perhaps he is a genius and knows it all. It just feels… well, weird ;)

    AFAIK, Steidle also seems to be a staunch supporter of NASA’s expanded dependence on private firms’ services for launches.

    For the pessimistic thought of the day… Griffin’s background and most of what he’s done so far also reminds me of Goldin’s tenure. An autocrat with a technical idea fixea (the SDHLV architecture) in command could be a boon or a curse. Depends on the quality of the idea, I suppose. We’ll see.

    I hope my pessimism (based on very limited information, admittedly) proves wrong.

  • A purge has been overdue since the Columbia disaster. It became more desperately needed after the Aldridge report. By the time O’Keefe left office the NASA managment team had made essentially no progress on transforming the template of the Moon Mars initiative into a living, breathing program with all the necessary foresight, technical programs and justifications. Sure, it had a lot of tentacles, but no brain.

    To replace a management team is the traditional response to non-performance; it was done at JPL in the 1970s to put an end to a pattern of failures.

    It remains to be seen whether or not these new changes are far-reaching enough to be called a purge, but in any case this is the natural time to bring in fresh blood and fresh ideas. I wouldn’t think the Moon Mars initiative to be a credible budget item if far-reaching management changes aren’t made.

  • Paul Dietz

    Purges of management are common in private industry. It’s helpful for managers to know that if they (collectively) fail, they (personally) will suffer. Cruel, but this is supposed to be a space program, not a welfare program.

  • Dfens

    Don’t you think you’d better support that last statement? Oh wait, you did say “this is supposed to be” not, “it is”.

    There are purges in aerospace all the time. The last two programs I have been on had these purges. Everything stayed the same but the names. People get frustrated and try to find a scapegoat instead of answers. It makes people (those who didn’t get fired) feel good, but doesn’t solve anything. It’s just more of the same.

  • There is nothing cruel about firing astronauts like Readdy and Gregory. The only real cruelty was the high positions that these clowns held at NASA in the first place.

  • Kevin,
    I’d agree if it was apparent anyone was actually implementing what was in the Aldridge report. But the evidence suggests that Griffin is going in the exact opposite direction of whatever that report said. As far as I’m concerned my support for the VSE was predicated on someone implementing what was said in that report and since it is actively being ignored in favor of Apollo 2.0, I’m very close to withdrawing my support for the entire Vision.

  • Keith Cowing


    What specific data/evidence did you use to arrive at the conclusion that Gregory and Readdy are “clowns” ?

  • Dfens

    And what exactly was wrong with Apollo 1? Was it the fact it put 7 times the payload into a higher orbit? Maybe you dislike it not blowing up on the way up, or incinerating on the way back down? Perhaps you just like to pay more, 3 times more, per pound to orbit? I loved that part.

    Granted there are better ways to get to space, but right now, I’d settle for Apollo 2.0. Anything is better than what we’ve got now.

  • serris

    “And what exactly was wrong with Apollo 1?”

    Well, here’s a guess… $2.4 billion per a Saturn V launch in 2004 dollars (source: All expendable. Total cost $43 billion in 2004 dollars. To put 18 people on the Moon for extremely short time limited missions. These costs alone would kill today’s NASA outright. (With an SDHLV centric architecture it may limp along for a decade, I guess…) Budget and all. This is not the only thing ‘wrong’ with Apollo in the current context, but sufficient to damn it as a role-model to follow.

  • Dfens

    That’s a hell of a deal compared to shuttle. Space station alone cost more than the entire Apollo program. You’re living in a world of spin and hype. A world where we cannot go to the Moon, but we can talk about it. A world where we cannot launch a decent sized interplanetary prob on something less than a 3 year trajectory, but we can talk about it.

    There are lots of good ideas out there, and I wish them all well, but doing it still beats talking about it.

  • serris

    Whatever, I’ll go along…. The Apollo was great, cool and slick, etc… the hard truth is NASA cannot afford an Apollo re-enactment in the current budgetary environment and has to actually think for a change. So far Griffin is not giving me “the good vibes”.

  • Cecil Trotter

    Cowing: “Greg: What specific data/evidence did you…”

    Mr. Kuperberg doesn’t care much for data/evidence facts….

  • Matthew Brown

    umm that 42 billion was spread out over 10 years.

  • serris

    “umm that 42 billion was spread out over 10 years.”

    Yes, and does the current NASA have that luxury? “President Bush’s budget request for Financial Year 2005 includes: “$428 million for Project Constellation ($6.6 billion over five years) to develop a new crew exploration vehicle.” Budget for year 2005 has been confirmed by the Congress in November 2004. ” ( source: That’s the *entire* CEV budget, not just the rocket.

  • Matthew Brown

    But thats just for when the Shuttle is still flying, after the shuttle is retired (if it is) in 2010 all that money will be freed up for the CEV.

    But to close the gap between Shuttle retirment and CEV deployemnt, on what money we have, cleaning managerial house will be needed when those managers may have contributed to the waste of the past.

    The MAIN reason things cost so much was the Cost plus contracts.

  • Paul Torrance

    Is the Right Stuff Era finally coming to an end?

    I was contemplating that question the few days after the Columbia tragedy.

    APOLLO had vision – not long term, not short term – say medium – a plan through the year 1969. But the moment Neil Armstrong stepped back on Earth, a new vision was needed. But there were no leaders at NASA to step forward, and there has been no leadership at NASA since then, and no leadership to understand how to incorporate the success of Apollo 13 into future designs.

    Thus although a success, the low quality inspect over and over everything into the product, otherwise known as pre-flight review in this business, has lingered unchanged to this day at NASA.

    The culture change needed at NASA is destructive testing up front, especially of the survival, escape, and rescue systems similar to automakers crash-dummy testing their vehicles.

    Until the crash dummy philosophy is adopted and the cutlure change made, NASA and Griffin may fall into the age old trap. There were more missed opportunities in Apollo 13 than with Columbia. There is no need to regress back to the mistakes of Apollo, because NASA is still in that era.

    So I ask the question, “Is the Right Stuff Era over?”

  • Dfens

    I’d say it was over, but I think it could be rekindled quickly. There is nothing wrong with Americans. They are as bright, motivated, and energetic as ever.

    I do not understand, however, why just one generation later there is such confusion over Apollo and NASA’s plan for the exploration of space in those days. The Moon mission was an out of sequence step, granted. The original plan was to establish a space station from which a Lunar mission would be assembled and launched. Since we found ourselves in a race, that aspect of the plan was short circuited and we went directly to the Moon via the Saturn V rocket.

    The follow on to the Saturn V was to be the space shuttle. It was to have the same capabilities as the Saturn V, and to significantly lower the cost through reusability, as well as increase the reliability and safety. Instead, the shuttle, in the post-Von Braun era, mutated into something that was half space station and half heavy lift, with the runaway weight increases consuming most of the heavy lift capability. The shuttle’s large living area gave it some capabilities to perform on-orbit science functions which had previously been envisioned as one key purpose driving the need for a space station. It makes much more sense to have a space station than it does to constantly boost and reenter your space laboratory, which is why the mutation had to occur post-Von Braun.

    The shuttle ended up being a dead end vehicle. It couldn’t lift the resources necessary for a trip to the Moon, or even boost a decent sized interplanetary probe. It usurped the main mission of a space station, even though we ended up building one of those as an attempt to get back on track. Once our heavy lift capability is restored, we will be back on track to establishing Lunar colonies, mining asteroids, and visiting nearby planets. Until then we will have to continue to put up with conspiracy nuts claiming the Apollo successes were science fiction rather than fact.

    So yes, the Right Stuff era ended with shuttle. It is ready to take off again, though. Let’s hope it never gets side tracked like this in the future.

  • Dan

    Dfens, that is the most concise step by step walk through analysis of the space program I have ever read. It seems very well thought out and it reflects exactly my thoughts on space exploration, though I never bother to put it in as many words until now. I have started a blog detailing my vision for space exploration and what it needs to not get side tracked again.

    The “purge” or “selective disemployment” of many NASA heads I believe will be a good thing, as long as the right people are chosen to replace them. Stay tuned to my blog ( to read my recommendations for qualifications. I too believe the Right Stuff era is ready to blossom again, and I intend to help it along in any way that I can.

  • Paul Torrance

    For the Right Stuff Era to be over, or to begin again, a new vision is needed.

    I kinda like MARS 2050. To send humans by the year 2050 and successfully return at least one of them alive with a probability of success defined as Ps = 0.99, all at constant budget.

    Perhaps it could be a big step for a broad, and a just another small step for the humans.

  • Dfens

    “A new vision,” what does that mean? Usually it means, “we need to spend more money.” That is not true. With all the technology we have available today, it should cost considerably less and take considerably less time, which is why I think Dan’s goals are perfectly achievable. When you consider NASA’s funding has remained essentially the same (, you realize just how much less we are doing with what is available to us than was done in previous years. The cost of materials has gone down too. We know what we want to do in space, we have the funding, and we have been side tracked for a generation by the failure that is shuttle.

    To go to a point of agreement between Paul and myself, though, certainly a key aspect of space exploration needs to be reliability. I don’t think we should be satisfied with 2 9’s, myself. We should be at 3 or 4 9’s of reliability by now. Instead shuttle blows up every 50 launches or so. 40 years into space flight and we can only manage one 9! How can that possibly be acceptable?

    Dan, I hope you are right regarding the purge. Possibly the way Mike Griffin is looking at it, he needs to put people he trusts in key positions before he is able to make the more substantial changes required. I hope that is the case. Thanks for the kind words, and best of luck to you.