Patience

I’ve noticed a lot of impatience in the blogosphere over the lack of an Obama pick for NASA administrator. Some people have even been pining for Mike Griffin to take the reigns again (as much of an unmitigated disaster as that would be). Personally, I would recommend patience. I’d rather Obama take his time and pick someone creative and open-minded, someone who can really turn NASA around. Another pick like Griffin would probably do irreparable harm to NASA (all in the name of reliving their glory days).

NASA needs a change. Right now it does do some good work, but compared to the opportunity cost of how it’s doing things (and how much we’re paying for it to do things), it isn’t even remotely worth the money it’s getting per year. Sure, $17B times the dot product of NASA’s trajectory, and what needs to be done to create a spacefaring society is still a decent sum of money. But in spite of bright spots like MER, COTS, Centennial Challenges, and a many other excellent programs and projects, a large percentage of the money appropriated for NASA every year is not being used in a way that aligns with the benefit of the nation as a whole. If NASA wants to live up to its true potential, there are probably going to be many painful changes. And it’s going to take some unique talents and lots of patience to effect those changes. Especially in the face of parochial interests.

That’s why I think it’s a pity that Isakowitz is out of the running. He sounded like someone really capable of navigating NASA through these times. I do have to say that I’m actually pleased with Obama (for maybe the second or third time since January 20th), seeing as how he as at least shown enough huevos to not completely get rolled by parochial interests that care more about maintaining the status quo than actually doing anything useful in space. Here’s to hoping for a pleasant surprise when he finally makes his pick. Until then, I’m going to be patient.

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Jonathan Goff

Jonathan Goff

President/CEO at Altius Space Machines
Jonathan Goff is a space technologist, inventor, and serial space entrepreneur who created the Selenian Boondocks blog. Jon was a co-founder of Masten Space Systems, and is the founder and CEO of Altius Space Machines, a space robotics startup in Broomfield, CO. His family includes his wife, Tiffany, and five boys: Jarom (deceased), Jonathan, James, Peter, and Andrew. Jon has a BS in Manufacturing Engineering (1999) and an MS in Mechanical Engineering (2007) from Brigham Young University, and served an LDS proselytizing mission in Olongapo, Philippines from 2000-2002.
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8 Responses to Patience

  1. Eric Collins says:

    Patience is virtue. The real question is whether or not NASA can afford to be without its administrator during this crucial time (i.e. budgets realigning, space shuttle retiring, etc.). I agree that it’s probably better to take a little bit longer to make a good choice rather than making a less than optimal choice too quickly.

    With that said, I’m surprised that Pete Worden’s name has not yet come up on the short list of prospective administrators. I’ve not heard him seriously mentioned anywhere, other than an off-hand comment by Clark Lindsey and Mark Whittington’s op-ed piece from last week.

    Judging from what I’ve read about him and from the few times I’ve heard him talk, he seems to have a solid grasp of how the old and new-space industries operate. His willingness to embrace new technologies and ways of getting things done while at NASA Ames shows that he is flexible and open to innovation. Also, the fact that he’s been able to put together a handful of missions/projects on shoestring budgets indicates that he knows how to get things done in a tight budget environment. I’d like to see what he could do with the agency as a whole.

  2. Rand Simberg says:

    I don’t think that the president would want to put up with the howls from his left if he were to choose Darth Vader (which is how many of them would view Worden) as administrator. You can bet that the lefty blogosphere (and probably much of the press) will bring up his previous unfortunate assignment.

    I hope that he’ll make a good pick, too, but hope has no power, and I have no particular reason to believe that he will. He hasn’t done it yet because it’s not any higher a priority for him than it is for any other administration, and probably considerably lower, given all of the other things on his plate. He also hasn’t done it yet because everyone he has wanted so far has been stymied by the Hill. So unfortunately, he may end up just picking someone acceptable to Bill Nelson, because it isn’t worth the fight.

  3. Iā€™d rather Obama take his time and pick someone creative and open-minded, someone who can really turn NASA around. Another pick like Griffin would probably do irreparable harm to NASA (all in the name of reliving their glory days).

    As RS points out, there’s an excluded middle between a rushed, crappy pick and a good pick that takes time to get. You could also get an unrushed, crappy pick.

    I’m betting that the NASA delay is a lot more about the administration being preoccupied with other priorities and not about a long, thoughtful analysis of NASA’s needs. We might well get good pick, but it will be by accident (note: this is not a partisan critique, a GOP administration would be the same).

    Who knew that even paleo-libertarians could indulge in wishful thinking about their government. šŸ™‚

  4. How about the real Darth Vader? His vigorous management style may be the only hope for the Stick, etc.

  5. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    Adam,
    I agree there’s as good of a chance of an unrushed crappy pick as an unrushed good pick. I think that this is one of the issues where Obama’s heart is in the right place–but good intentions don’t necessarily mean that he knows who would make a good administrator. As it is, I’m hearing rumors that the new admin that Rockets and Such was talking about may be a pure politico–it remains TBD if that will be a great thing, an awful thing, or just a “meh” thing…

    ~Jon

  6. Rand Simberg says:

    His vigorous management style may be the only hope for the Stick, etc.

    <VOICE=”Darth Vader”>I find your lack of confidence in my launch vehicle design very disturbing…</VOICE>

  7. Adam Greenwood says:

    <VOICE>You have failed me for the last time, Administrator Griffin.</VOICE>

  8. tom says:

    Due to it’s history and visibility, I think NASA is used to new administors (like Goldin or Griffin), who come in, expecting to shake things up in a major way, do quite a bit of damage in the process, and then leave with some minor successes, some major busts, and no real lasting impact.

    Maybe what NASA needs now is a little bit of quiet but competent management like they’re already getting in Griffin’s absence.

    There’s plenty going on. Personally I’d prefer a new NASA adminstrator to come in following a successful COTS launch from either Orbital or SpaceX, which would probably produce some interesting new directions. In the meantime anyone that doesn’t come in with a chainsaw is doing good enough.

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