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NASA Cost Cutting: End of Humans in Space?

The White House has replaced NASA administrator Daniel Goldin with a budget buster known for his relentless cost-cutting. President Bush has nominated Sean O?Keefe, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, to the top job at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The 45-year-old O?Keefe served as Navy secretary for Bush?s father and also worked for Vice President Dick Cheney, when Cheney was defense secretary in the 1990s. O?Keefe was known for his budget cutting at the Pentagon. He must be confirmed by the Senate.

Reaction to Daniel Goldin was mixed. He was the agency?s longest-serving chief, serving a record 3,517 days. Some criticized him from turning NASA into a bloated, money wasting bureaucracy.

Goldin?s response was, ?You want to know something? If you come to a job like this and love to be loved, you will never do the right thing?I?m controversial yes. I?m sharp-edged yes. But I also care about the future. I don?t mind telling it as it is and as I see it. I?m not politically correct and I?m proud of it.?

Since Goldin came to NASA on April 1, 1992, the agency has launched 171 space missions, only 11 of which ended in failure, which is a 93.6 percent success rate.The number of space-science missions launched per year grew to four from one. The average cost of those missions dropped from over $1 billion to about $250 million, and the time it took to develop spacecraft dropped from a decade or more to two or three years. The International Space Station went from the planning stage to a fully functional orbital research laboratory that has been permanently staffed now for almost a year.

?Clearly, without his leadership, we would not have a space station at all,? says Kennedy Space Center Director Roy Bridges, a former astronaut and veteran shuttle pilot.

O?Keefe says NASA is badly in need of new leadership and is particularly critical of NASA?s cost overruns in the international space station program, estimated in the billions and strongly criticized by an independent task force earlier this month.

O?Keefe and the task force have called for major changes. They suggest that NASA reduce its space station work force, cut back on the number of shuttle flights to the outpost, and extend station crew stays. It also recommended three-person crews rather than the seven-person team originally envisioned.

John Logsdon, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, says, ?It?s what the White House thinks NASA needs. If you look at the report, what it really is saying is that the human space flight culture that?s developed from the days of Apollo is dysfunctional.?

Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat whose district includes Cape Canaveral, says, ?Mr. O?Keefe is coming from the White House budget office, where bean counters have a history of ?calling the shots? and micromanaging NASA?s programs. In my opinion, the head of our space agency must be a visionary, someone able to set lofty goals and inspire our nation?s research and exploration in outer space.?

Goldin warned both NASA and aerospace contractors not to raid monies now earmarked for the Space Launch Initiative. ?I make a plea to my good friends in NASA Houston [Johnson Space Center] and NASA Marshall [Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama], the United Space Alliance, Lockheed and Boeing. Don?t attack the Space Launch Initiative to feed your faces. Leave it alone. It?s important to the country,? he said.

?It?s the end of an era," Logsdon says. ?I think it will take some time yet to get a full evaluation of [Goldin?s] impact.?

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