Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Former Air Force General to Head Obama's NASA

Several news sources are reporting that Obama has decided to the controversial (but I believe effective) Michael Griffen as NASA's top administrator. Obama's pick, according to Scientific American, is retired Air Force General Scott Gration. Gration was an important supporter of Obama during the primaries and spoke at the Democratic National Convention in order to lend some national security credibility to Obama's run for president. Gration was also used for his appeal to moderates and republicans as he voted for Bush in 2000.

Politically, this is a good choice. He's a man that can help the military and NASA's space programs work together more effectively due to his extensive military experience. He's also a moderate, which appeals to both parties without alienating the liberal wing of Obama's party since NASA isn't known as a hot-spot for controversy. He's a man that Obama wasn't afraid to put on the campaign trail so I'm sure he will avoid some of the public dust-ups that Griffen is famous for (the most recent was a heated argument Griffen had at a public reception with the head of Obama's transition team for NASA). Politically Scott Gration is a smart choice.

In my opinion, however, he's wrong for NASA. Michael Griffen may have been a jerk, but he was an engineer that knew how to make things work. He ran NASA as an exploration agency for really the first time in 30 years. He played fiscal hardball to keep important projects running. He refused to turn NASA into the NSF for space, which irked astronomers to no end. He looked bad doing it, but Michael Griffen was one of the best things to happen to NASA in a very long time.

I think Obama's choice to replace a proven engineer with someone who has no experience at all with space-flight is a politically motivated move. I have come to expect better from Obama - more often than I would expect from a politician he makes decisions based on facts rather than perception. Here, however, I think he made the wrong move.


  1. I too want NASA to spend more time doing science. Given how much more "pro-science" Obama's administration is compared to the current one, I have a hard time believing he doesn't have science in mind when making this selection.

    Since I don't know anything about this guy, I will wait to see what happens. If he "militarises" NASA, that would be bad. If he, being a General, cuts through the red tape and makes things happen at NASA that could be good. (I'm sure you all have been to some talk where they lament how so many of NASA's projects are being delayed and backlogged.)

    Ultimately the country needs new science and technology to come out of NASA. I *know*, unless the opposite of a miracle happens, Obama has set the tone for much greater innovations in science and technology. Well will see where this pick leads.

  2. Though I am repeating myself, again, regardless of any politics, what we really need is someone who innovates in science and technology.

    NASA photops will never help anyone on the same level the kind of technology that came from computer research, or other research designed at making new discoveries in science and technology.

    This is the kind of person any president should appoint. At the leadership level, a leader who will make this happen.

  3. I have to disagree with Joe in that while I think science and exploration go hand-in-hand, I don't want NASA to become the NSF in space. If NASA's mission is exploration - as I think it should be - then we need people who actually build things (engineers) running it.

    By firing Griffen Obama has already made the scientists happy, but I think in the long run he picked political convince over progress in space exploration.


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