Bush names physicist, space fan to run NASA
WASHINGTON — President Bush on Friday nominated Michael D. Griffin, a physicist and engineer who is a strong advocate of human space flight, to lead the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as it tries to revive the shuttle program and return humans to the moon.
Griffin, who is head of the Space Department at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, in Laurel, Md., has held numerous posts in the aerospace industry and was president and chief operating officer of In-Q-Tel, a nonprofit organization sponsored by the Central Intelligence Agency to invest in companies developing technology with application to national security. He also served as the Deputy for Technology of the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization, working on missile defense systems from 1986 to 1991.
If confirmed as administrator by the Senate, Griffin faces a critical period at NASA, which is trying to recover from the Columbia disaster two years ago and to relaunch the shuttle program in May. An independent panel found that a "broken safety culture" was as big a cause of the accident, which killed seven astronauts, as the piece of falling foam that put a hole into Columbia's left wing.
Griffin would also be charged with carrying out Bush's new vision of space exploration, which focuses on sending humans back to the moon and later on to Mars.
Griffin, 55, served at NASA during the 1990s, where he was chief engineer and the associate administrator for exploration. He is to replace Sean O'Keefe, who left the post last month after three years to become chancellor of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.
In congressional testimony last March, Griffin supported the president's new direction for NASA, arguing that the agency can expand exploration beyond the Earth within its budget of about $16 billion a year by ending the shuttle program early and reducing support of the International Space Station.
Speaking before the House Science Committee, Griffin called for streamlining and redirecting NASA while continuing human space exploration. "The United States will not abandon manned space flight," he said. "Not to have the capability to fly humans in space, when other nations do and more will follow, is simply unacceptable for a great nation."
Challenges the new administrator must face include overseeing the resumption of shuttle flights as early as May 15, completion of the space station, re-evaluating O'Keefe's controversial decision not to send a shuttle to repair the Hubble Space Telescope, and selling Congress and the public on NASA's new direction in exploration.
The new NASA chief is also likely to have to scale back operations at some of the agency's 10 centers and to trim its workforce of 18,000. NASA officials said this week that the agency could reduce its work force by 15 percent by the summer of 2006 through buyouts, retirements and transfers, as well as closing down some facilities that are not essential for exploration.
Griffin's selection was greeted with bipartisan support and optimism on Capitol Hill. "Dr. Griffin will propel NASA into the next phase of America's mission in space," House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said in a statement. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., ranking Democrat on the Senate committee that oversees NASA, said of Griffin: "He has the right combination of experience in industry, academia and government service. He has a proven record of leadership and a passion for science and exploration." Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Science Committee, said Griffin is known for his candor and directness, as well as for imaginative thinking. "Dr. Griffin has long been a resource to the Science Committee, both as a public witness and in providing private counsel. He has broad expertise, and knows NASA inside and out."
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, R-Texas, chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Science and Space, said she was pleased with the selection. "I spoke with Dr. Griffin today about working together to reauthorize NASA this year and implement our vision for NASA's future," she said.
John Logsdon, the director of George Washington University's Space Policy Institute, said Griffin's technical skills and personality should help him as NASA administrator. "He is full of enthusiasm and deeply technical, and known for his integrity and judgment," Logsdon said in an interview. "He's going to be accessible and he will be listened to because he is knowledgeable. At the agency and on Capitol Hill, he should do great."
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A native of Aberdeen, Md., Griffin received a B.A. degree in physics from Johns Hopkins University and earned a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Maryland. He also holds five master's degrees, in aerospace science, electrical engineering, applied physics, civil engineering and business administration.
Griffin also has served as adjunct professor at several universities, teaching courses in spacecraft design, applied mathematics, guidance and navigation, computational fluid dynamics, spacecraft attitude control and other areas. He also is the author of a textbook on spacecraft design.
In April 2004, Griffin took his current post as head of the space departments at the Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, where he had worked in the 1980s. In 1986, he joined the Pentagon's "Star Wars" program aimed at developing a missile defense shield.
From 1991 to 1994, he worked at NASA in several technical posts, including managing an earlier Mars exploration program advocated by Bush's father that was later cancelled because it was considered too expensive.
Griffin left NASA for technical posts in private industry, going to Orbital Science Corporation in Dulles, Va., to head the rocket maker's Space Systems Group and later serve as the company's chief technical officer. He also worked for Computer Science Corp., in El Segundo, Calif., a computer technology company.
As a top official at In-Q-Tel, he helped invest about $45 million a year in federal money to develop technology for intelligence use. Projects included software and other technology designed to sort rapidly through massive quantities of data like intercepted emails and satellite images. Gilman G. Louie, In-Q-Tel's chief executive officer, said Griffin had run day-to-day operations and helped steer investments beyond information technology into biotechnology, nanotechnology and materials sciences.
John Pike, head of Globalsecurity.org in Washington, and an expert on space issues and the Strategic Defense Initiative, said Griffin is well versed about politics and the civilian and defense sides of the aerospace industry.
"The intersection between politics and the aerospace industry is territory he's quite familiar with," Pike said, referring to Griffin's experience with the Strategic Defense Initiative and In-Q-Tel.
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