Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Alan Stern named associate administrator for SMD

NASA has finally announced the replacement for Mary Cleave who is retiring in April as AA for the Science Mission Directorate. Dr. Cleave was trained as a biologist and an engineer, but became an astronaut almost straight out of grad school (her Wikipedia entry). She was never really accepted by the science community, which is likely one, but certainly not the only, reason for the strained relationship between the greater NASA science community and HQs for the last couple of years. She felt we were constantly whining and we felt we weren't being listened too, it was a bad situation all around.

I think that Dr. Cleave did her best in what is a thankless job, especially during tough budget years, but I for one, will not be sad to see her go.

Dr. Stern is an interesting choice for replacement. I don't know a lot about him besides what was in the press release, but he is clearly a scientist and an active member of the planetary community, so he gets points for that. (Although according to his Wikipedia entry, he was very nearly an astronaut, but I won't hold that against him.)

Alan is from Colorado, a graduate of the Univ of Colorado, he is currently executive of the Southwest Research Institute's (SwRI’s) Space Science and Engineering Division. Which, I believe, is in Mark Udall's district. Mark being the chair of the House subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics. So they should get along well.

He is also the PI on the New Horizons mission to Pluto. I know that it's going to be a while before we get to Pluto (July, 2015), but even so, doesn't that seem like a conflict of interest? I wonder if they will make him relinquish that title while he is at HQ.

Can Dr. Stern make a difference at HQ? Can he do anything to improve communication with the science community and erase some of the bitterness that has been built up the last few years? I hope so.

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