Today marks the retirement of the longest-serving administrator
in NASA history, Daniel S. Goldin. After nearly 10 years leading America's
space program — a term spanning three presidents — Goldin
leaves behind an agency renewed in vigor and direction, but bogged down
by an unexpectedly expensive International Space Station.
The pioneer behind the "faster, cheaper, better" approach
to spacecraft design and one of the founding fathers of astrobiology,
Goldin reshaped NASA, focusing on safety and reducing the cost of piloted
space flight. The former vice president and general manager of the TRW
Space and Technology Group, Goldin paid special attention to astronomy,
lobbying for increased funding for planetary missions.
"I think astronomers especially are going to miss Dan
Goldin," says Edward Weiler associate administrator for space science
at NASA. "It was easy working for a guy who loved astronomy because
I'm an astronomer."
Goldin's retirement comes at a turning point for NASA.
The agency is facing $5 billion in cost overruns for the International
Space Station now under construction, and the Bush administration has
mandated a bottom-up review of all agency resources and programs. In
addition, a recent congressional report recommended strong financial
management to keep the rising costs from harming the rest of the space
program — as critics say has already happened.
On Thursday President Bush announced his intent to nominate
Sean O'Keefe as the next administrator. O'Keefe is currently the deputy
director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Because of the space station's problems and the management
problems indicated in the congressional report, "Bringing in a professional
management type person to fix those problems is not necessarily a bad
idea," said Weiler.
O'Keefe would not be the first NASA administrator from
a management rather than space background. James Webb came from the
public management field and had great success during the era of the
Apollo Moon landings.
But not everyone in the space community is as optimistic.
John Logsdon, the director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington
University, told the Washington Post that he thought the selection
would be unpopular with NASA employees. Many others are also concerned
about appointing a leader of NASA without astronomy experience.
Regardless of the changes brought on by his successor,
Goldin will be remembered for his many triumphs. He is most proud of
the successful effort to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's bad optics.
"Hubble brought science to the public. Dan was always
very strong on getting our science out to the public," said Weiler.