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News Notes
Science policy
Space administration shakeup

The middle of this month marks the end of the 120-day moratorium on hiring and firing by NASA’s new administrator, Michael Griffin. On Aug. 12, NASA observers expect to see a flood of changes to the higher level administration officers, as Griffin makes known his preferences for running the space agency.

“A new administrator comes in and he wants to do things differently,” says Kevin Marvel, of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, D.C. “The best way to do that is to appoint new people.”

Griffin stepped into his position on April 14. At the 60-day mark, NASA rules allowed him to start sending letters of warning regarding potential changes to senior officials. According to NASAWatch (an online blog by Keith Cowing, a former NASA employee), the scuttlebutt in June was that Mary Cleave, a former astronaut and deputy associate administrator in the Office of Earth Science at NASA Headquarters, would replace Al Diaz as NASA’s Associate Administrator of Science, among other reassignments and resignations. A few administrators have already resigned, including Craig Steidle, the head of the exploration systems division working on NASA’s next “crew exploration vehicle.”

Meanwhile, the Senate included $250 million for a Hubble servicing mission in its June version of the budget appropriations, the first step toward funding a mission that had been dismissed by the previous administrator, Sean O’Keefe. That project still hinges on the success of the “return to flight” of the space shuttle Discovery, which had yet to launch as of July 15.

Earlier this year, the American Astronomical Society decried cuts to NASA’s budget, as did the American Geophysical Union (AGU). At a press conference in June, John Orcutt, president of AGU and a geophysicist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, expressed concern that budget cuts would limit opportunities for earth and space science researchers by reducing resources that would train the next generation. “It’s the view of AGU that we can’t afford to shift resources away from this,” he said.

Eric Barron, chair of AGU’s panel on the U.S. Vision for Space Exploration and dean at Pennsylvania State University, said that proposed cuts “put a great deal of pressure on every other agency that supports those sciences.”

Naomi Lubick


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