Atop new NASA leader's agenda: human spaceflight
The Constellation program is gearing up as the shuttle winds down. But other shuttle replacements have been scuttled before.
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A commission is currently reviewing NASA's human spaceflight program, and it is not necessarily bound to hold onto Constellation, according to its chairman, Norman Augustine. "We will be looking at different architectures, as well as the existing architecture, and I am not in a position to make any predictions," he said during a briefing earlier this month. "We have been asked to provide options."Skip to next paragraph
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One important political factor that could keep Constellation on track: Without it, US astronauts would have to rely on Russian Soyuz launches to reach the International Space Station far longer than they would otherwise would. An approach other than Constellation would take years to develop. It is a potential gap in US capabilities that former NASA administrator Michael Griffin called "unseemly."
The commission's recommendation is due out in August. One of the biggest challenges the new NASA administrator will face is keeping the agency and politicians focused on whatever path the Obama administration chooses afterward.
"There's a lot of frustration within the space community that so many replacements for the space shuttle have been attempted and then not followed through," Dr. McCurdy says.
The administrator's role is a constant test of political and personnel skills. As a presidential appointee, an administrator must sell an administration's agenda to the agency, while standing up for the agency before the president and Congress.
Bolden can do both, say people inside and outside the agency. It's hard to become a general officer in the military without honing political skills, and he counts among his former shuttle crew mates Sen. Bill Nelson (D) of Florida. Senator Nelson served as a mission specialist on a flight in January 1986 and now chairs the Senate Commerce Committee's Space, Aeronautics, and Related Sciences subcommittee. He argued intensively for Bolden as NASA's new administrator.
Moreover, Bolden's long association with NASA, including his service on the agency's Aerospace Safety and Advisory Panel, have reassured people working for the agency.
"There's a lot of excitement about Chuck's nomination," says Ed Weiler, who heads the agency's science directorate.