Mike Still Needs An Irony Meter

Joel Achenbach has a piece at the WaPo today on the ongoing NASA/transition foofaraw:

Griffin’s pugnaciousness may not have been the most politically savvy way to lobby to keep his job, but no one could say it was out of character.

No kidding. I found this tragic:

With multiple degrees, including a doctorate in aerospace engineering, Griffin is not reluctant to reveal the confidence he has in his judgments. And he may be lobbying for the ambitious Constellation program as much as for himself. He has always been a true believer in what he calls “the majesty of spaceflight,” and he fervently hopes to see human civilization expand across the solar system.

I believe that he hopes that, which is why it’s such a shame that he’s done more to set us back from that goal in the past three years than anyone else.

And this is an attitude I’ve never understood:

Ed Weiler, a NASA associate administrator (occasionally mentioned in the space community as a potential successor to Griffin), would like to see his boss stick around for a while, particularly with the tricky space shuttle mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope coming up next spring.

“I’d certainly like to have a leader who was an experienced engineer or whatever,” Weiler said.

Why? Why should the NASA administrator be an experienced engineer? Doesn’t NASA have people at lower levels who are competent to oversee a Shuttle flight, even one for the Hubble repair? Is it the job of the administrator to micromanage at that level?

I never had a problem with Sean O’Keefe not being an engineer — I don’t expect a good NASA administrator to be an engineer. O’Keefe’s problem was not a lack of technical expertise, but the fact that he got gun shy after Columbia, and was no longer able to be decisive or lead, because he feared too much having to tell another set of families on the tarmack that their loved ones were gone.

In general, I don’t think it hurts to have some technical knowledge, though in the case of Griffin, I think it did, because he doesn’t/didn’t understand what the job of the administrator is, which is not to get involved in engineering and drive the results of trade studies in favor of one’s own pet designs. Arguably the best NASA administrator (and there aren’t many good ones — most of them have been bad) was Jim Webb, at least in terms of carrying out administration policy and accomplishing the goal. He was a lawyer.

2 comments on this post.
  1. Astra:

    “I never had a problem with Sean O’Keefe not being an engineer — I don’t expect a good NASA administrator to be an engineer. O’Keefe’s problem was not a lack of technical expertise, but the fact that he got gun shy after Columbia, and was no longer able to be decisive or lead, because he feared too much having to tell another set of families on the tarmack that their loved ones were gone.”

    O’Keefe toured our rocket lab once. He was so bored his eyes were rolling back in his head. I don’t think the administrator need be a technical expert, but someone who is as interested in science and technology as he is in accounting will be better prepared to listen to his team members before making decisions. Of course O’Keefe got cold feet after Columbia. From his point of view, I doubt anything NASA did was important enough to risk lives.

  2. Habitat Hermit:

    “”…or whatever,” Weiler said.”

    What does that mean? Whatever what? Was it just an outburst of frustration or does he use “engineer” as a paper tiger requirement to keep the troglodytes out, or something else entirely?