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Retired Air Force General Is Leading Candidate for

Started by kmichaelm, 01/15/2009 11:10AM
Posted 01/15/2009 11:10AM | Edited 01/15/2009 11:10AM Opening Post
Retired Air Force General Is Leading Candidate for NASA's Top Post

Retired Air Force General Is Leading Candidate for NASA's Top Post


LOS ANGELES -- Scott Gration, a retired Air Force general with a long Washington resume but no experience running civilian space programs, has emerged as the leading candidate for the top job at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, according to people familiar with the matter.

While no final decision has been made, according to these people, talks about the appointment are under way and an announcement could come as quickly as the next few days. The former fighter pilot and foreign-policy adviser to President-elect Barack Obama has a long track record in military aerospace and has held some sensitive policy posts over the years, but his views on NASA's priorities and technical challenges aren't known.

Former NASA official Lori Garver, who has been serving on Mr. Obama's transition team for the agency, is considered the leading candidate to get the No. 2 NASA post, these people said. Mr. Obama transition officials weren't immediately available for comment.

The moves come at a critical time for the agency, which faces major uncertainties about its current plans, significant funding challenges and increasing rivalry from a number of countries as the U.S. strives to replace the space shuttle fleet and find a way to return astronauts to the moon and extend manned missions into the solar system.

The choice of Gen. Gration was first reported by online industry publications NASA Watch and

The personnel moves follow weeks of speculation that the president-elect was leaning toward appointing a scientist or perhaps a former astronaut as NASA administrator. The current agency head, Michael Griffin, has angered some Obama insiders by publicly lobbying to stay on and bristling at the transition team's questions about current priorities.

Gen. Gration retired as a major general two years ago, and joined the Obama national-security brain trust. Gen. Gration's personal ties to the president-elect could give NASA a big morale boost and help the agency maneuver through budget constraints and competing pressures from lawmakers and contractors. He had a big role during the campaign in drafting Mr. Obama's space policies, which advocated beefing up spending and accelerating development of rockets and spacecraft to take astronauts to the international space station and then to the moon.

The Obama platform also called for extending somewhat the proposed 2010 retirement of the space shuttle. But since then, transition officials have sent mixed signals about their strategy to accomplish that goal. As a NASA outsider, many industry officials see Gen. Gration as more willing than other potential appointees to substantially redesign the agency's manned exploration programs.

One of the first big questions confronting NASA is whether the new team will embrace the Bush administration's concept of building a new fleet of space shuttle-derived rockets to reach the orbiting International Space Station and return to the moon. In the past few weeks, there have been increasing calls by outsiders to scrap some of those plans in favor of using existing military rockets.

Supporters of such a change in direction argue it would save time and money. Mr. Griffin and proponents of the current plan counter that switching to different boosters would delay project development and increase overall costs.

With no final decision so far and an announcement still at least two days away, Gen. Gration's name began sparking support and questions throughout the space community. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, a former astronaut and chairman of a key subcommittee with authority over the agency's budget, expressed concerns about picking an administrator without NASA experience. Retired Air Force general Pete Worden, who now runs NASA's Ames Research Center and had been considered a potential candidate for the agency's top job, sent out a message Wednesday applauding the choice of Gen. Gration.