Is Bolden right for NASA?
Over at the "Old Gray Lady," New York Times editorial writers have chimed in on Marine Brig. Gen. (ret.) Charles Bolden Jr.'s nomination to head NASA. (Thanks to NASA Watch for the heads-up.) And they urge caution.Skip to next paragraph
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"Although he has an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering and a master’s in systems management, his skills are primarily operational. He lacks the deep technical expertise that enabled the previous administrator, Michael Griffin, to second-guess NASA’s own experts and those from industry."
How critical are the technical skills? Chats with a couple of historians who have long tracked the ups and downs of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration suggest that while a solid technical background can be helpful, it's not critical.
Arguably, one of the most successful administrators in the agency's history got his undergraduate degree in education, then became a lawyer. His name: James Webb. The project he shepherded through its formative stages: The Apollo program.
"Administrators typically have been political operatives," explains Roger Launius. He's the curator of the Smithsonian Institution's Air and Space Museum and served for years as NASA's chief historian. Administrators like NASA's first chief, Keith Glennan, or Webb were "very well connected to the political parties in power."
"The best NASA administrators have been political insiders" whose connections allowed them to continue mustering support for the space program even in the face of ebbs and flows in public support, Launius says. (Speaking of public support, even during the heyday of the Apollo program, widely regarded as a Golden Age for the US space program, public-opinion surveys at the time showed that between 45 percent and 60 percent of Americans thought the government was spending too much on spaceflight.)
So maybe the question should be: Does Bolden have the political "right stuff"?