NASA Chief to Step Down

Former NASA Chief Says Ares I Rocket Two Times Safer
Michael Griffin, 11th Administrator of NASA, at his Senate confirmation hearing on April 12, 2005. (Image credit: NASA/Renee Bouchard)

NASAAdministrator Mike Griffin is planning to leave office on Jan. 20, and a shortlist of potential replacements is starting to emerge as the incoming Obamaadministration moves toward Inauguration Day.

Griffin, a veteran rocketscientist who always has said he serves at the pleasure of the president, does notexpect to be offered an opportunity to stay on after President-elect BarackObama takes office.

He and all other politicalappointees from the Bush administration have submitted their letters ofresignation as a matter of course. All are effective Jan. 20, a Tuesday.Monday, Jan. 19, is a federal holiday, so that means the preceding Friday wouldbe Griffin's last day in his ninth-floor office at NASA headquarters inWashington, D.C.

Friends and family are campaigning andpetitioning for Obama to keep Griffin on board, but all indications arethat a new NASA administrator will be nominated along with a new NASA deputyadministrator sooner rather than later.

The GovernmentAccountability Office rated the impending retirement of NASA's shuttle orbiterfleet as one of the top 13 issues the new president will have to deal with inshort order. The administration is expected to nominate new NASA leadershipbefore making any significant decisions regarding U.S. space policy and thefuture of the human spaceflight program.

According to congressionalsources, a former astronaut who would be the first black NASA administratorleads the list of potential candidates.

Charlie Boldenflew four times on the space shuttle, including the mission to deploy NASA'sflagship Hubble Space Telescope and the historic first joint U.S.-Russianshuttle mission.

He also flew on a 1986mission with then-congressman Bill Nelson, who now is the senior U.S. senatorfrom Florida.

Nelson likely will be a keyfigure in the selection process. He runs the Senate committee that overseesNASA and has been advising Obama on the future of the nation's space agency.

Nelson declined comment onthe possibility of Bolden heading NASA. But his spokesman, Dan McLaughlin,said, "The senator views him as a top-notch individual."

Bolden told FLORIDATODAY he has not been contacted by representatives of the incoming Obamaadministration or its transition team.

He added, though, that hewould be open to having a conversation about the future of NASA.

Other potential candidatesmight include:

  • Sally Ride, who became the first American woman to fly in space in 1983. Ride, who served on the commissions that investigated both the Challenger and Columbia accidents, wrote an editorial in support of Obama during the presidential election.
  • Alan Stern. The principal investigator of a mission to Pluto, Stern served a short term as associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters. After he left, Stern criticized NASA for ongoing cost overruns in space and planetary science missions.
  • Wesley Huntress. A former NASA space science chief, Huntress played a key role in the deployment of a series of vitally important planetary science missions after the 1986 Challenger accident, including the Magellan Venus Radar Mapper, the Hubble Space Telescope and the Galileo Jupiter probe.
  • Scott Hubbard. Known for turning around NASA's Mars program after back-to-back failures in the late 1990s, Hubbard was a key member of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. He went on to serve as a director of NASA's Ames Research Center before leaving the agency for academia.

Publishedunder license from FLORIDA TODAY. Copyright ? 2009 FLORIDA TODAY. No portion ofthis material may be reproduced in any way without the written consent of FLORIDATODAY.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at:

Aerospace Journalist

Todd Halvoron is a veteran aerospace journalist based in Titusville, Florida who covered NASA and the U.S. space program for 27 years with Florida Today. His coverage for Florida Today also appeared in USA Today, and 80 other newspapers across the United States. Todd earned a bachelor's degree in English literature, journalism and fiction from the University of Cincinnati and also served as Florida Today's Kennedy Space Center Bureau Chief during his tenure at Florida Today. Halvorson has been an independent aerospace journalist since 2013.