Key U.S. Senator Cautions Obama on NASA Pick

Obama Asks Retired Air Force General to Run NASA
United States Air Force Maj. Gen. Scott Gration (ret.). (Image credit: USAF)

WASHINGTON? U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who chairs a key NASA oversight panel, iscautioning President-elect Barack Obama to avoid selecting a space agency chiefwho lacks NASA experience.

Obama?s choicefor NASA administrator, according to a source briefed on the selection, isretired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Jonathan Scott Gration, a decorated fighterpilot who is a virtual unknown in the space community.

Nelson,asked to comment on the prospect of Grationleading the space agency, referred to the tenure of former NASA AdministratorSean O?Keefe, who had no direct space experience before moving to NASA from theWhite House Office of Management and Budget in 2002. O?Keefe was appointed byPresident George W. Bush, who leaves office Jan. 20.

?I thinkPresident Bush made a mistake when he appointed someone without NASA experiencein Sean O?Keefe to head the agency. I hope President Obama?s pick will havethat kind of [NASA] background,? Nelson said today through his spokesman, DanMcLaughlin.

Nelson, aschairman of the Senate Commerce space and aeronautics subcommittee, would playa lead role in confirming Obama?s choice for NASA.

Grationheld senior policy positions in the military prior to his 2006 retirement fromthe Air Force. He lacks space-related experience aside from a one-year stint in1982 and 1983 as a White House Fellow working for NASA?s deputy administratorat the time, Hans Mark.

Sourcesclose to the Obamatransition, however, said Gration helped write the seven-page space policypaper the Obama campaign released in the August supporting the goal of sendinghumans to the Moon by 2020 and calling for narrowing the gap between the retirementof the space shuttle and the first flight of its successor system. Thepaper stood out as the most comprehensive policy statement on NASA released bya major presidential candidate in recent history.

Grationemerged as Obama?s top choice Tuesday, moving ahead of previously reportedcandidates Charlie Bolden, a former astronaut who co-piloted Nelson?s 1986space shuttle mission, and environmental scientist Charles Kennel, who ranNASA?s Earth Science enterprise in the early 1990s.

Pete Worden,a retired Air Force brigadier general and director of NASA?s Ames Research Center, sent out a Twitter text message Wednesday applauding Gration as NASA?snext administrator.

?I amdelighted that it appears that my old colleague is our new boss,? wrote Worden,who also had been mentioned as a possible candidate. ?This is an exciting timefor us. Godspeed NASA?

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:

SpaceNews reporter

Becky Ianotta is a former SpaceNews reporter covering space industry and policy news from 2008 to 2009. Becky earned a bachelor's degree in English/Journalism from the University of Miami. She spent five years as an editor with the Key West Citizen in Florida before joining the SpaceNews team. She later wrote for Air Force Times before taking her current position as communication director for Mother's Against Drunk Driving.