Monthly Archives: April 2005

New Openness at NASA?

Despite evidence NASA’s bureaucracy is continuing to resist any meaningful reform, in recent months one NASA department seems willing to recognize the advice of outside experts, a circumstance not seen at the space agency perhaps for decades.

Whether Michael Griffin, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s new administrator, can or is even willing to extend such openness throughout the agency’s entire management remains the $64,000 question.

First, some history and context. A long time ago, on May 30, 1987, I was co-chairman of an event in New York City called the Challenger Space Fair.
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Is There Life After Hubble?

The arrival of Michael Griffin as new NASA administrator — along with his promise to reconsider the decision to cancel the space shuttle servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope once the shuttle starts flying again — makes the immediate future of space astronomy look suddenly much brighter.

Space astronomy’s long term, however, remains problematic. Even if a shuttle servicing mission upgrades Hubble successfully sometime around 2007, the most that mission can accomplish is to extend the orbiting observatory’s lifespan until about 2012. By then — if nothing else is done — the new gyroscopes will begin to fail and the world’s only optical space telescope will again approach the end of its life.

Worse, if the National Aeronautics and Space Administration launches and docks its planned de-orbiting module to Hubble following the shuttle repair mission, the module’s presence will make it impossible for any future servicing missions to dock with the spacecraft.

In other words, the de-orbiting mission — though guaranteeing a safe demise of Hubble — places a fixed and irrevocable death sentence on the iconic telescope.
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The Right Man for the Job?

The Senate hearing on and subsequent vote to approve Michael Griffin as the new NASA administrator took just two days but that was time enough for Griffin to make clear how he stands on three of the agency’s most controversial issues: the Hubble Space Telescope, the space shuttle’s return to flight, and plans to replace the shuttle fleet.

Questions by members of the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation relating to a fourth topic — bad management at NASA by both its upper-level employees and Congress — helped reveal the daunting political and bureaucratic difficulties Griffin will face trying to remake NASA into an effective government organization.

The Senate hearing Tuesday was quickly followed by a unanimous vote on Wednesday night to approve Griffin.
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Part 2: How Politics Drives NASA

For NASA’s management culture truly to change, there must be fundamental reforms, not only within NASA, but also – more important – in the way Congress and the president oversee the space agency.

More than two years after the shuttle Columbia accident, however, it does not appear that elected officials have made much effort to reform their own behavior when dealing with NASA.
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