Chair Force Engineer

Monday, February 09, 2009

Meet the new boss?

Of all the people having been previously mentioned for the position of NASA Administrator, the name of retired Air Force General Lester Lyles gives me the best feeling from my cursory knowledge of his resume. His experience as a commander and director of Launch Vehicle programs, and his experiences as commander of Space & Missile Systems Center and Air Force Materiel Command should be more than adequate experience for a potential NASA Administrator. It doesn’t hurt that a trusted confidante from my office met General Lyles at a convention and came away highly impressed.

It must be stressed that serving as an astronaut or earning an engineering Ph.D. should not substitute for automatic qualifications for the NASA Administrator job. It's not to say that either of these qualities should disqualify a potential candidate, but they have very little to do with what the administrator is tasked with. He or she has to manage a multi-billion dollar agency and "herd the cats" in a massive bureaucracy. Controlling costs and schedule while meeting performance targets is the name of the game.

The two biggest unknowns here are 1) what does the Obama Administration want the NASA Administrator to accomplish, and 2) what approach will the NASA Administrator take towards carrying out that goal? During the second Bush term, the direction was clearly laid out within the Vision for Space Exploration. Mike Griffin’s approach to VSE, known as ESAS, was an unknown at the time Griffin was appointed and confirmed (although one need only look at Griffin’s work from the First Lunar Outpost study and his work with the Planetary Society to see where he was going with ESAS.) Things are far more uncertain this time around. Without a space policy white paper from the White House, it’s very uncertain if the Obama Administration will endorse the general direction of Mike Griffin’s NASA, or if it will “change” towards currently-unknown goals in the exploration of space. It’s always possible that the White House could defer to the next NASA Admin, giving the new boss a lot of leverage over the overall goals of the agency.