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From various news reports, it appears that President-elect Obama is beginning his final selection for NASA administrator.  While I don’t have any specific names, I do have a few suggestions as to the qualities that the next NASA administrator should have.  

Join me over the fold to see these qualities

Capable administrator – This is perhaps the most important requirement – rather than being a scientist, or an astronaut, or a list of accolades, the next NASA administrator must be capable of administrating large scale government agencies.  NASA is a ménage of competing interests and missions, whose goals sometimes are in complete opposition.  

Add to that the fact that NASA’s funding is always a struggle with Congress, and the public works angle that always plays a role, and it becomes obvious that NASA can be a managerial headache.  Therefore, NASA must have an administrator who not only has a technical and scientific appreciation for space, but also understands the inherent political nature involved when dealing with government work at this level, and can work with other sectors, like the activist community and the media.  It’s very insightful that James Webb, arguably one of the best NASA administrators, wasn’t a scientist, or engineer, but was a politician who respected science and engineering.  This is not to say that a scientist or engineer can’t do this – but they need to have a history of being a good administrator, and a good understanding of how to deal not only with the complexities associated within NASA, but also those that extend beyond NASA.

Agent of Change – During the Presidential campaign, then Senator Obama's position on space evolved, and his final proposed space policy discussed a number of issues – not just climate change, or human spaceflight, but numerous important details, like working with the commercial sector, export control reform, inter-agency cooperation, developing good international rules for conduct in space, and so on.  This was not just a policy designed to grab a few votes in Florida and Texas – his proposal offers a real opportunity to finally move space beyond its current inception of science, public works, and technological development, to one that allows for the average person to become involved, and to help society to grow to the point that it truly embraces all that space has to offer.

But this won’t happen with NASA in its current inception.  NASA has been plagued by cost overruns, recreates existing infrastructure while ignoring new technologies, and has discouraged scientific debate.  This cannot continue, and change is needed in multiple places in NASA (but particularly the human spaceflight program).  Thus, the next NASA administrator needs to be someone who can work with the entrepreneurial space sector as well as the traditional space sector – someone who can work with new international partners, and new federal government partners, as well as traditional partners like ESA, JAXA, and RSA.  He/She needs to be someone who will embrace new tools, like prizes and service contracts, rather than just default to traditional contractor and cost-plus contracting models.  Therefore, it needs to be someone who will not just transform NASA’s rockets, but NASA itself.

Respect for Information and Transparency – NASA’s current administrator hasn’t always respected information.  From his comments on global warming, to his rejection of data regarding launch vehicle options, Michael Griffin has not respected information multiple times.  In addition, NASA under his watch has attempted to censor data, both relating to the issue of global warming, but also with regard to things like spaceflight architecture selection.  
This is unacceptable in a NASA administrator.  Given the scope and cost of the projects it deals with, the scientific nature it must have, and the political environment that it operates in, the NASA administrator must have a respect for information and transparency.  This ensures the policy fits the data, rather than the data fitting the policy, and ensures that the United States is getting the world class space programs it deserves.  
It could be argued that what is needed is a NASA equivalent to President-elect Barack Obama.  After all, if you consider the list of criteria I’ve offered, this is exactly what we see in President-elect Obama, and we can already see what his impact will be on national policy.  Something equivalent is needed in space policy.

BBQ Chicken Madness did a diary yesterday on some of the people who are in the running to be NASA administrator, and I should link to it.  Also, its worth noting that we also need a new NASA inspector General

Originally posted to FerrisValyn on Sun Jan 11, 2009 at 03:02 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tips go here (13+ / 0-)

    and anything that can help us advance the cause of becoming spacefaring

  •  Trolls, anti-space rants, and rockets that (6+ / 0-)

    reproduce existing capablities go here.  

  •  I swear. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I really don't ever recall it being so damn important who the NASA administrator is.  I mean, what gives?  I love space.  I think it's really cool.  But hell's bells.

  •  I am a sucker for lost causes, but I will point (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    out that Michael Griffin has gotten endorsements from Congressmen on both sides of the aisle including the chairs of the committee overseeing NASA in both House and Senate.

  •  Exactly right: (3+ / 0-)

    It could be argued that what is needed is a NASA equivalent to President-elect Barack Obama.  After all, if you consider the list of criteria I’ve offered, this is exactly what we see in President-elect Obama, and we can already see what his impact will be on national policy.  Something equivalent is needed in space policy.

    As I've said before, NASA may very well be Obama's biggest reform challenge and it will take a reformer as good him to change the place in a substantive way.

    Obama may have bigger fishes to fry in the reform category, like the Department of Justice, but at least those organizations remember what it was like to be relatively healthy. NASA's dysfunction far predates the Bush Administration.

    If God hadn't wanted us to fly, he wouldn't have given us Bernoulli's Principle.

    by HamillianActor on Sun Jan 11, 2009 at 03:25:51 PM PST

    •  Yup. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      They should have been working on the next launch system while Clinton was in office.  And that should have been based off extensive research done during H.W.'s term.

      The shuttle was 'expected' to fly forever, and that just isn't a reasonable expectation.  But every program that was working on the next generation of launch vehicles would have any setback whatever, and get immediately canceled.

      Here's hoping they don't make that same mistake after we start flying Ares (or whatever we end up going with).

      "Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do." ~Voltaire

      by The BBQ Chicken Madness on Sun Jan 11, 2009 at 03:29:44 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Who will head NASA? (4+ / 0-)

    There are currently 5 names out there.  I wrote a diary yesterday detailing all of them.

    Who will run NASA?

    "Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do." ~Voltaire

    by The BBQ Chicken Madness on Sun Jan 11, 2009 at 03:26:26 PM PST

  •  I would prefer that we not be too NASA-centric (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FerrisValyn, NellaSelim, Vladislaw

    As a federal agency, NASA has stakeholders with legitimate interests that are not necessarily congruent with a robust program of space development. In other words, NASA cannot do everything we space enthusiasts desire to see accomplished.

    One reason I strongly favored the candidacy of Barack Obama - going back to July/August of 2007 - was his instance that neither he nor ANY President can fix things for us. We need to do stuff for ourselves.

    It is "Yes WE can" not "Save us, Barack Obama"

    Regarding NASA, unless WE find business models that close WITHOUT the continuing inflow of NASA money,  we shall not become a spacefaring species. Full stop.

    NASA can facilitate us getting there but NASA cannot do it for us.

    Therefore, I desire a NASA Administrator who won't go ballistic if some renegade space dudes try to buy Mir or create a business model premised on selling logo space on the flight suits and spacecraft even though I desire that NASA resist doing that themselves.

    "Seeing our planet as a whole, enables one to see our planet as a whole" - Tad Daley

    by Bill White on Sun Jan 11, 2009 at 03:31:18 PM PST

    •  I definitely agree (0+ / 0-)

      In something I am hoping to post tomorrow (which the transition team has) I want to talk about this specific issue - we have expected NASA to be the end all of space, which is a mistake of monumental proportions.  

      True story - I have a classmate who is a graduate student, and actually applied to be an astronaut.  We were discussing space policy with a former NASA official, who happens to be our professor, and we were discussing NewSpace, and private space ventures.  

      Anyway, (and remember, this is someone who is intimately involved in the field) he said "Doesn't/shouldn't NASA play a major role in the regulation of this industry?"  

      That comment rather stunned me, in all honesty.  

    •  Yup, (0+ / 0-)

      One day, I plan to develop a manifesto along these lines.  But I gotta finish my PhD thesis first.

      However, I think for quite some time, there is going to be a major need for NASA.  Even those new revenue streams will require a lot of pre-competitive research (a US Geological Survey of the asteroids, for example) before they can be tapped.

      •  Make no mistake, I believe we need NASA (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        NellaSelim, Vladislaw

        We simply cannot expect NASA to do everything for us.

        One controversial example? I do not believe NASA's mission should include a tunnel vision focus on lowering launch costs if it means postponing exploration until newfangled concept come on-line.

        Maybe NewSpace will lower costs and maybe they won't and to the extent NASA can facilitate new technologies without stopping exploration, they should but developing RLV space planes is not NASA's job.

        = = =

        I also do not believe NASA can provide sufficient demand to require enough launches (by itself) to sustain a fuel depot or a genuine RLV. Therefore, unless and until private sector business cases start closing WITHOUT tax dollars, NASA cannot rely on those approaches.

        Once private sector demand gives us depots and RLVs, NASA should purchase as much as they can.

        "Seeing our planet as a whole, enables one to see our planet as a whole" - Tad Daley

        by Bill White on Sun Jan 11, 2009 at 03:56:31 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  You really enjoy that horse, don't you Bill? NT (0+ / 0-)


          •  What horse? (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            NellaSelim, Vladislaw

            Even Clark Lindsey has opined that once NewSpace starts taking money from NASA they are at great risk of being transformed into nothing more than an innovative player within Legacy Space.

            (Link to Clark's quote within this link):

            While I have this long definition of NewSpace, a shorthand distinction between conventional space and NewSpace can be summarized as Wholesale vs Retail.

            The wholesale paradigm: space markets will never expand beyond a very limited range of government and industrial customers. The public will interact with space only indirectly via services such as GPS systems and satellite TV. The number of rocket launches to orbit per year worldwide will not grow significantly beyond the hundred or so that we see today and getting a payload to space will always cost several thousand dollars per kilogram.

            The retail paradigm: the space industry will become much larger by offering new spaceflight applications, such as space tourism, directly to the public. Highly reusable, robust and reliable space transports will bring down the cost of spaceflight significantly as economies of scale are generated with higher flight rates. (This doesn't mean everyone will be going to space anytime soon. A couple of thousand people taking suborbital spaceflights each year and a hundred or so paying to go to orbit per year would revolutionize the industry.) On the long term, large scale human settlement in space will take place.

            With this distinction, it should be clear from their business plans which companies fall into the NewSpace category and which do not. Also note that this distinction makes it quite possible for an innovative entrepreneurial company not to be in NewSpace and for a big mainstream aerospace company, or at least a subsidiary or subgroup within it, to have full membership in the NewSpace movement.

            If your business case looks to NASA as an essential customer then you are not a NewSpace company.

            To the extent this is true, NASA can best help NewSpace by staying away.

            "Seeing our planet as a whole, enables one to see our planet as a whole" - Tad Daley

            by Bill White on Sun Jan 11, 2009 at 04:14:21 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  I agree (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          I do not think NASA could, on it's own support a fuel station. I DO believe thought that if habitats are in place and a fuel station, commercial space tourism would use it to make their own IN-SPACE ships.

          It goes to sales, once you have made the first sale, what else can you sell to the customer?

          If you have them onboard a orbiting habitat for a month, what else can you sell that billionaire once you have them there.

          "So Mister Gates, would you like to take a sight seeing trip by the ISS? No? How about a trip to GEO and get a real look at planet Earth"

  •  Lori Garver quote. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FerrisValyn, NellaSelim

    This is from 2004 after Griffin came on board.


    "We also asked for someone to head NASA who is politically savvy and connected with the administration and has the ear of the president, and we now have that. I think that that is very beneficial. Again, we have to be careful to keep it bipartisan and that is probably a new challenge,"

    So if she is correct and NASA needs someone who is politically savy, who among the current choices would fit that bill?

    •  I wish I knew. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I freely acknowledge that.  I don't know any of the people personally, at least those who have been mentioned.  My primary link to people at this level is someone who has interacted with these people.  He respects some of them, like Bolden and Kennel, and there are others for who, shall we say, he has a certain amount of trepidation (Alan Stern would be in this catagory)

      But as for who in those catagories actually fits this, I do not know.  

      You are right, we all though we had this in Griffin, and that has turned out to not be the case.  So the question is, who is it?  

      I don't know.  I wish I had more data.

      •  Stern (0+ / 0-)

        I was very encouraged by Stern's aspirations for his last NASA job. Liked what he had to say in open forums at the start. Not so much his performance on the job.

        NASA has real problems with politically connected contractors who do mostly defense work. A billion dollar overrun at the Pentagon usually is considered a reasonable outcome and part of the cost risk of doing something new. There was a space-based laser comm. demo. that got a DoD management award, despite costing double the original budget! At NASA overruns on big flight projects kill dozens to hundreds of important smaller science and/or technology projects. For example, cost growth in implementing the VSE killed off nearly all the related long-term technology development efforts in planetary exploration. Some projects even had committed funding pulled back. For example, there were some really cool efforts in machine 3D vision and AI-assisted telepresence that were defunded. Griffin asserted at the time, "We'll just buy the technology when we need it." (Dan Goldin's separation of tech. development from early mission concept development proved to be a perfect recipe for delays, failures, and cost growth later on.)

        Costs at all the remaining big aerospace companies are very high, whether NASA, NOAA, or some part of DoD is paying the tab. Alan Stern knew that overruns on "flagship" missions had to be contained. Yet he didn't seem to know how to do it--politically or managerially. That sorta' doesn't recommend him for the top job.

  •  I have been checking out Horowitz petition (0+ / 0-)

    to keep Mike Griffin. Many of these names are recognizable names like Shannon Lucid, Dr. Joe Allen, Robert Crippen, et al.  Many of these people are also NASA employees.  Seems pretty impressive to me.

  •  NASA only matters (0+ / 0-)

    if Obama creates a truly radical, bold agenda for it and delivers funding from Congress.  Then it will need a helmsman, because it would have been given a mission other than to exist, and will need true talent steering the ship.  

    But if this is one of the areas where Obama chooses to exercise pragmatism over vision, the result will probably be a somewhat more robust manned LEO program centered on Dragon and a few flagship probe missions - and while that requires competence, it won't require a great leader or gifted politician.

    I seriously hope it's the former case.  Barack Obama has an opportunity to spark a Heroic Age for America and all mankind, that could be remembered (if dimly and with numerous inaccuracies) millennia into the future.  We should continually strive to communicate these notions to him, because he would be their greatest champion once he realizes our vision is everything he stands for put together.

    Freedom is in the fight.

    by Troubadour on Mon Jan 12, 2009 at 09:57:17 PM PST

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