Saturday, March 12, 2005

The New NASA Chief

I personally don't know the new pick for NASA Chief, Mike Griffin, but here is what the official White House announcement says about his qualifications:

Dr. Griffin currently serves as Space Department Head at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. Prior to that, he was President and Chief Operating Officer of In-Q-Tel, Inc. He also served in several positions within Orbital Sciences Corporation, including Chief Executive Officer of Magellan Systems, Inc. Earlier in his career, Dr. Griffin served as Chief Engineer at NASA and as Deputy for Technology at the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization. He received a bachelor's degree in Physics from Johns Hopkins University; a master's degree in Aerospace Science from Catholic University of America; a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Maryland; a master's degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Southern California; a master's degree in Applied Physics from Johns Hopkins University; a master's degree in Business Administration from Loyola College; and a master's degree in Civil Engineering from The George Washington University.

Also, according to CNN: (hat tip: Christine)

Griffin, a rocket scientist with an MBA, had previously worked at NASA as the agency's associate administrator for exploration in the late 1980s and early 1990s under the first President Bush....Before returning to APL in April 2004 to head the space work, Griffin worked as the chief operating officer of In-Q-Tel, a private non-profit enterprise funded by the Central Intelligence Agency to invest in companies developing leading edge technologies.

This information tells me several things.

1. Griffin is a REAL scientist who has made it in the rigorous academic world of the physical sciences as a researcher (he may even be OVER-educated for the position--something most of his predecessors cannot claim);
2. Griffin has had experience with the NASA culture as a scientist and an administrator;
3. Griffin has had REAL experience in business and technology.
4. Griffin IS NOT just another bureaucratic hack from another part of the Space Agency;
5. Griffin IS NOT just another bureaucratic hack from one of the many cravenly subservient aerospace companies associated with NASA and who merely recycyle NASA bureaucratic hacks and do whatever NASA tells them to do.
6. Griffin IS NOT an astronaut, who for the most part just follow the NASA party line and, despite their credentials, have been and are a major impediment to serious science at the Agency.

For all these reasons, many people at NASA--particularly the more incompetent, change-resistant managers, invested in the old way of doing business--will hate his guts and do everything in their power to obstruct him. If Griffin is truly "the chosen one" --who will make the necessary changes in NASA culture that will restore balance to the tension between science, technology, business and government and ignite a revolution in space exploration--then he very possibly could become one of the most pivotal and important NASA Administrators we've had in a long, long time.

But, if he is seduced by the dark side of the NASA culture, then he'll just be yet another in a series of Sith Lords leading the Agency towards its inevitable decline.

And since I am only a simple flight surgeon, trying to make my way in the universe, I will let Time and Space determine which statement--or neither-- might be true.

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