I was disappointed to see a recent New York Times editorial (May 28, “Nominees for the Space Agency”) that questioned President Obama’s selection of Charles Bolden, Jr. and Lori Garver as NASA’s top leaders. Both Bolden, a former astronaut and retired Marine general, and Garver, a NASA policy specialist, have proven their abilities to lead. The real question is whether they will have the necessary resources to address the tough work of transitioning from the space shuttle to Constellation, the next generation of spaceflight vehicles to the moon and beyond.
The onus is on the White House and Congress to secure America’s continued global leadership in space. They must restore the money necessary to keep the Constellation program on schedule, make wise decisions about the shuttle’s retirement and support the science and technology investments that will keep the space station’s laboratories actively returning scientific data.
The Times editorial, which raised doubts about Bolden and Garver’s credentials with a direct comparison to the immediate past NASA administrator, demonstrates a lack of knowledge of NASA’s history and past leaders who have energized this country’s space endeavors for five decades. Indeed, the president’s choices bring different strengths, but diversity is key to the creation of a thriving, innovative environment.
NASA leaders have come from varied backgrounds, including experts with industrial proficiency, scientific and technological competence, military prowess and human spaceflight experience.
Bolden’s experiences will be incredibly valuable in the move from the shuttle program to Constellation. As a former astronaut, he is keenly aware of safety issues. As the Times notes, he was appointed to a critical safety position at the Johnson Space Center that oversaw the return to flight following the Challenger disaster in 1986.
With her deep knowledge of the policies that guide America’s space agency, Garver is both mindful of the challenges ahead and equipped to address them with efficiency and finesse.
President Obama’s decision to fill the top two posts with a charismatic leader and space veteran, along with a polished policy strategist makes for a winning combination. Those distinguished skills are critical to navigating NASA through the challenges of changing agency directives, budget shortfalls and limited human access to space.
Bolden and Garver are ready to forge ahead on a vibrant science, space exploration and aeronautics agenda befitting a 21st century America. The missing piece is a commitment from the Administration and Congress to provide the tools to fulfill the mission.