Saturday, March 19

NASA: best of times, worst of times

There seem to be a lot of strong feelings in both directions right now about the way the space agency is heading.
On the plus side, I haven't found anyone yet who has a bad word to say about the choice of Mike Griffin as the new NASA administrator. For one thing, assuming he's confirmed (and nobody seems to doubt that), he'll be the first head of NASA who actuall is a rocket scientist. He knows the technology, has a lot of innovative ideas, and has worked long and hard in the past on long-term planning for the agency. Scientists I talked to this week at the LPSC in Houston seem very optimistic about the effect he could have on the nation's planning for the future of the space program, which despite grand words from this president, as there were from his dad, hasn't really had any strong sense of direction since the lunar landings were achieved with spectacular success. That's a long time.
The downside is that he may not have the power to turn things around, given some of the moves already underway. Scientists working at the agency's elite research centers are scared, holding their collective breath to see what happens next. Some have already been offered buyouts, and there are rumors of widespread cutbacks in staffing and of "reorganization" of some centers, notably Ames Research Center, the focus of much long-range basic research, that might amount to the beginning of the end for those institutions.
Or maybe not. Change is scary, and there are plenty of people who think the organization could use some shaking up -- but they may have different ideas in mind about just how. It will be very interesting to see what happens over the next few months.


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