Who Will Replace Mike?

I think that it’s pretty much a fait accompli that someone will, and probably in less than three weeks. On The Space Show on Sunday, David Livingston asked me if I’d heard any rumors who might be the next administrator. I told him that the only name that I’d heard (and not from any off-the-record discussions) was Charlie Bolden. Bobbie Block has a blog post up now confirming him as a front runner.

I have no idea, assuming that he is in fact going to be chosen, and accepts, what this would mean for the agency, or my own desires for its future direction. The last time we had an astronaut as administrator (Dick Truly), it was kind of a disaster. He basically went to war with the GHW Bush administration over the Space Exploration Initiative, going so far as to send his congressional liaison over to the Hill to lobby against it, in preference to focusing on the space station, which eventually got him fired and replace by Dan Goldin (frying pan, fire). One shouldn’t draw grand conclusions from a single example (though many love to do so with Apollo, Shuttle, and ISS), but we have one unfortunate result of our one experiment with an astronaut administrator.

The other candidates mentioned are Scott Hubbard, Sally Ride (another astronaut, of whom I have good reason to think would be a disaster, from my point of view, because she doesn’t seem to share my own space vision based on past statements and activities), Wes Huntress and Alan Stern. Of those four, the only one that I can say right now that I’d like to see get the job is Alan Stern, based on his past comments about needing to harness private enterprise much more than the agency has been. For what it’s worth, Keith Cowing claims that none of them are interested in the job, with the possible exception of Hubbard.

What I found interesting though, is the last bit:

The current head of Obama’s transition team, Lori Garver, is hoping to be deputy administrator.

Lori has told me herself that she has no interest in being administrator, so this is consistent with that, at least. But I think it would be a mistake. I actually think that it’s more important for the deputy to be technical, with technical management experience, whereas the administrator need (even, perhaps in light of the Griffin experience, should) not be. The deputy is sort of like the COO of the agency, managing daily operations and coordinating the centers. The administrator is more like the CEO, and should be laying out strategy, and interacting with the public, White House and Congress. So while not necessarily endorsing her for either, I actually think that, assuming I had to make a choice, she’d be a better pick for administrator than deputy.

13 comments on this post.
  1. Edward Wright:

    Bolden is apparently quite close to George Abbey. After leaving NASA, he was president of American Puretex Water Company, which Abbey founded.

  2. Rand Simberg:

    Well, that’s certainly bad news, though it would make sense, considering the era in which he was an astronaut. It would be scary to think of Abbey as the power behind the throne.

  3. Mike Puckett:

    Please Ms. Garver! If you are reading this, just take the job already!

    Spare us the shade of George Abbey!

  4. jack lee:

    scott hubbard is an excellent engineer and manager
    and would make a good deputy for Dr Stern

  5. Mark R. Whittington:

    Looks like Bolden is the lead candidate. We’ll see if this means the return of George Abbey from the dead or not. In any case, I hear little but good things about him.

  6. Neil H.:

    I came across an interesting quote from Bolden from 2006, in response to the question “Are you for or against space tourism?” [I wonder if he’s referring more to private tourists on the ISS]:

    “I’m a big fan. Every time we can send a human into Earth’s orbit, that’s one more person that becomes aware of the value and joy of doing that, and knows what that vantage point affords us. The more of it the better. We need to be careful we don’t let people go about it in a cavalier manner. We need to put as much training into the space tourists as any government-sponsored space exploration.”

  7. Neil H.:

    For the interview link:

    http://www.metro.co.uk/fame/interviews/article.html?in_article_id=30260&in_page_id=11

    Also, this part from the interview is also interesting:

    Q:Are you still concerned about the safety of sending people into space after Columbia?

    A: We’re concerned all the time but then again we’re concerned about the safety of people on commercial airlines. Everyone takes that for granted, though. We know things can go wrong in everything made by man but we have to consider the most likely things that can go wrong and prevent those things from happening.

    Q: Some people criticised Nasa for resuming flights too quickly.

    A: I don’t think they went fast enough. They deliberated long and hard. We were down for more than two years after both Challenger and Columbia which, to me, exemplified a reluctance to make a tough decision and go back and fly again. It’s easy to sit on the ground and worry about safety because if you don’t fly, you can’t have an accident. But that’s not the way to run a space programme. You have to accept the risks.

  8. Rand Simberg:

    Thanks, Neil. That’s an encouraging quote, if valid (at least the first part). Can you find a citation?

  9. Bill White:

    Bolden link

    http://www.personalspaceflight.info/2006/12/24/boldens-a-big-fan-of-space-tourism/

  10. Rand Simberg:

    Thanks, Bill.

  11. Charles Lurio:

    The quotes give me a touch of hope, but what I’d like to see happen is for ex-astros like Searfoss (XCOR’s pilot), who are playing some part in NewSpace, to be a wedge to “educate” a guy like Bolden about the field. You gotta find some way to break through that NASA immersion of so many years.

    The truth is simple: selecting someone like Ride or Bolden or another astronaut is the easy selection for those who care not one whit about space, because space isn’t important. And of course if you keep selecting people who have been immersed in the Old Space system, it never will be, at least not with any aid from NASA.

    Griffin is yet another variation on the theme. Though he has tried to break out of the past in some ways (viz COTS, which I hope survives even if someone chosen with the ‘easy’ criteria comes in) he’s at heart dedicated to the Old Space engineering culture, cause he’s spent too much time in it.

    The person we need to head NASA is someone who knows how technology transitions from high cost to low cost and large market potential. Engineering backgrounds in ‘conventional’ spaceflight or the easy symbology of an ex-astronaut are likely to be disqualifiers for instituting such changes that are needed for “all the rest of us.”

    But not, unfortunately, for someone in the _Administration_ transition office with the ultimate responsibility for selecting a candidate in about 5 seconds flat. Given that probability, we can only hope that the good folk in the _NASA_ transition team such as Lori & George, maybe with some outside help such as suggested above, can put the person selected on a _fast_ learning track beyond the old and sickening NASA ‘product.’

    Well, that’s what it looks like at 2:30 am, anyway.

  12. Griffin is Out « The Four Part Land:

    […] Griffin is Out No Contact Yet For NASA Jobfloridatoday.com | The Flame Trench | Florida Today’s Space Team BlogSPACE.com — NASA Chief to Step DownOrlando Sentinel – NASA: Mike Griffin out, Charlie Bolden in?Ex-astronaut emerges as NASA prospect – Space- msnbc.comWho Will Replace Mike? – Transterrestrial Musings […]

  13. Habitat Hermit:

    Charles Lurio wrote:
    “You gotta find some way to break through that NASA immersion of so many years.”

    Good point. Could it be that a combination of Bolden as Administrator and Garver as Deputy is a conscious tactic in this regard? Since Bolden would sort of have the Obama administration both up and down the chain of command I mean.

    Just thinking out loud, might be wishful thinking ^_^