Congress, NASA, White House

Shuttle retirement, NASA leadership vacuums, and more

Some space policy commentary and news from around the web:

In a column in Monday’s Florida Today, reporter John Kelly warns of schedule pressures of adhering to a September 30, 2010 deadline for shuttle retirement, likening it to the schedule pressure for completing the station that existed prior to the Columbia accident. While this argument is not new, Kelly doesn’t come to the immediate conclusion, unlike some shuttle advocates, that this means that the shuttle’s life should be extended. “[S]omeone must determine if all the flights scheduled are needed,” he argues. If it’s not fiscally possible to keep the shuttle flying beyond its current retirement date, “then it needs to be made clear that missions at the tail end of the schedule are optional and will be canceled if they can’t be flown safely by then.”

Kelly also note the need by the White House to find a nominee for NASA administrator, an argument echoed elsewhere. For example, former CNN space correspondent Miles O’Brien takes it up in a blog post at True/Slant, a new news site. He argues that even with a replacement for acting administrator Chris Scolese in place, decisions on topics like the retirement of the shuttle and the shuttle/Constellation gap would be the same, despite the consternation of the “Space Cadet Corps” who have complained about a lack of a nominee. (One trusts that O’Brien recognizes the somewhat pejorative undertones of a phrase like “Space Cadet Corps”.) “In short, you could put a dog in the 9th floor corner office at 3rd and E Street, SW and things would not be much different – which is to say, not very pretty.”

Among those things that are taking place with only an acting administrator is the drafting of a detailed FY2010 budget proposal, Aviation Week reports. That budget is scheduled to be rolled out in early May, with no guarantee of even a nominee for administrator announced by then. The details of that budget proposal remain under tight wraps.

Of course, this isn’t stopping the “Space Cadet Corps” from continuing to press for a NASA administrator nominee. Sen. Bill Nelson has certainly loudly pushed for a nominee (and one in particular, former astronaut Charles Bolden), and the Orlando Sentinel more comments by Nelson made last week about the situation. “NASA is adrift because it doesn’t have a vigorous leader, appointed by the Obama administration, to take charge; someone who understands space flight, who understands management, who understands aeronautics,” Nelson claimed. “NASA does not have a leader as yet who understands how to motivate people and capture the spirit of the American people, which is that we are explorers and adventurers by nature.” More from Nelson:

I personally know our President is a space aficionado. We have talked about it hours on end. I know he wants us to have a vigorous space program. I know President Obama understands how to accomplish the very thing he wants to do with young people, in getting them educated and particularly educated in math and science and engineering. Look to history. Look at what happened in the Apollo program when young people by the thousands starting going into math and science and engineering because they were challenged by what we were doing in the cosmos. We can do that again if the President will give the full support to the space program and if he will put the right leader in NASA.

8 comments to Shuttle retirement, NASA leadership vacuums, and more

  • If we are hearing this from Nelson, either Obama is playing it very close to his chest, or Lori Garver is not going to be the next admin. Which it is I can’t say.

    I still say Lennard Fisk would be great

  • Major Tom

    Kelly’s and O’Brien’s editorials are a good ones. A new Administrator won’t come up with billions of dollars per year to keep Shuttle flying past 2010 or fix the Constellation mess and accelerate a replacement overnight. But a new Administrator (or the current, acting Administrator) can manage the Shuttle flyout as safely as possible, even if that means designating some of the remaining ISS assembly manifest as optional.

    But O’Brien is inaccurate here:

    “Without a boss, NASA doesn’t have a seat at the table. Over time, this could hurt the agency…”

    That’s simply not true. An acting Administrator is consulted on and debates the same issues as a confirmed Administrator and attends the same meetings.

    Others “at the table” may not take what an acting Administrator says as seriously as a confirmed Administrator because it’s assumed he’ll only be there a short while. But the acting Administrator has a seat at the table nonetheless.


  • @Ferris Valyn

    Lol! I have to hand it to you Ferris! You are persistent! :) And I myself still advocate for a national space policy board to oversee NASA with the administrator job as a hired position rather than an appointed one. This way the Administrator can focus on the technical program and day to day management. The board can deal with the politics from Congress and WHite House, NASA’s budget with OMB, and guiding a continuous, comprehensive, longterm space policy.

  • common sense


    I am not sure about a career Admin but let’s hope that the revived National Air and Space Council will do what you suggest. I believe it was (in part) its goal back in 1958…

  • @common sense

    NASC would really have an advisory role only. The council would have virtually no authority to enforce its recommendations. By giving a board the ability to select the administrator makes that position more accountable to the board and would help guide NASA through long term policy.

  • common sense


    Well. Nobody but the President has any authority in that matter. Since the board according to your suggestion has to deal in a political capacity with Congress and the WH it further reinforces that NASC is the way to go. I am sure you already saw that but just in case:

    The Admin should not deal with technical issues. That is the responsibility of the Chief Engineer. The Admin by definition is an administrator. He should sit at the board/council/whatever and be part of the conversation. BUT the President decides the policy and the Admin enforces it. The board is here to facilitate the implementation with all the stakeholders, e.g. DOD, DOE, NSF, etc.

  • @common sense

    BUT the President decides the policy and the Admin enforces it.

    And this is exactly why NASA keeps changing directions every eight years and is unable to follow a single comprehensive longterm strategy. NASA is subject to the political whims of whoever happens to be occupying the Oval Office. If we want NASA to have a longterm plan then Congress is going to have to pass legislation reorganizing NASA so that the change of political winds can be minimized. A space policy board overseeing NASA would be one way to do it. It could be set up do that the President can nominate several board members but the other members are selected through other mechanisms. Under the current act as you have linked to the board is advisory body only.

  • common sense


    Hmm. I am actually interested in a board made of appointees and hired/career/other members. It might be difficult but doable. I also thought that the next NASC should also include members of Congress, Industry and Academia. But I am afraid it might become unmanageable. Still like the idea of a mixed membership though.

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