Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Why NASA's top job remains unfilled

Politicians, outside interests maneuver to influence choice

WASHINGTON — During the past few weeks, the names of three retired generals have floated around Washington and Houston as candidates for the top job at NASA.

Each time, though, aides to President Barack Obama failed to say whether they had selected the space agency’s administrator, and the guessing game continued.

Now, some supporters of the manned space program with ties to NASA say that one of the key reasons for the prolonged selection process is that powerful politicians and rival space contractors are maneuvering behind the scenes to influence the choice.

At stake is a multi-billion-dollar project to develop the Ares rocket for the space shuttle replacement.

NASA thought it had put the decision behind it to use the Ares to propel the Orion moonship into space when it selected a consortium of ATK Launch Systems Group, the Boeing Co. and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne to develop the moonship. The space agency has spent $13.6 billion on the rocket so far.

But the United Launch Alliance — a joint venture forged by Lockheed Martin Corp. and the Boeing Co. — never accepted Griffin’s decision as final, says John Logsdon, space expert and Obama intimate.

The alliance favors the Atlas V or Delta IV rockets, which the Pentagon uses to launch military satellites. Lockheed’s Atlas V rocket is built in Littleton, Colorado; Boeing’s Delta IV is constructed in Decatur, Alabama.

“They see the choice of a new administrator as an opportunity,” said Logsdon, a former director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University who served on the Columbia accident investigation board.

Read the story HERE.

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