At NASA HQ
It’s Not If, But When, You Go
NASA Watch reported this morning, and Rand Simberg followed up at Transterrestrial Musings, that a new name had been circulated by the Obama transition team to replace Bush appointee Michael Griffin as the head of NASA. The name has been tied to the Obama campaign.
Sources report that The Obama Transition Team has circulated a name for vetting for the job of NASA Administrator: Major General Jonathan Scott Gration. The name may not ring a bell, but Gration was an early Obama supporter and has been advising him on things since the start of Obama’s campaign. As you can see from his online resume Gration is no wallflower. Indeed, having been vetted by life, so to speak, the process of vetting him for the NASA Administrator’s job – and subsequent confirmation, ought to be a cinch.
I never met Mike Griffin, but I worked at APL with several people who worked directly for him at his previous job. Without fail he was spoken of as a fine administrator, boss and colleague. If his tenure as NASA chief is not remembered as a successful one, I’m sure some will say that it was because he was not a politician, or lacked the proper vision. It’s hard to understand how he did so well at (with and for) APL, though, if that’s the case.
NASA is a peculiar animal. It has no purpose, no function, except to serve the national interest. Once that was to position the country to win the cold war. Later, the purpose was to aid the nation’s diplomatic staff in diplomacy and relief. Sometimes it did PR work. More than occasionally, NASA’s rockets aided science that could be done in no other way. But it exists at the pleasure of the American Taxpayer, or more accurately, at the pleasure of Congress. It appears that once again Congress has no idea what it wants NASA to do.
When NASA has no obvious direction it becomes easy for those with the authority to assign it a national security mission (read, military). There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that, and it’s probably a good use of resources. But I have to wonder if we’re pulling back on NASAs mission. The manned space program has seemed, if not moribund, uninspired (and uninspiring) for decades now. And I don’t think the Challenger and Columbia accidents had anything to do with that, or with the taxpayer’s perception of NASA. People of all stripes are inspired plenty by two little rovers and half a dozen orbiters on Mars and Saturn right now. Inspiration was what the president was hoping to build with NASA’s mission to the Moon and Mars.
Didn’t happen, though. The American public isn’t in the mood to be inspired by space. Too bad. It’s going to be a long time before we go back.