After a week of playing coy, President Barack Obama finally announced his choice to lead NASA on 23 May. He picked two space flight advocates—former astronaut Charles Bolden and Washington lobbyist Lori Garver—to take the jobs of administrator and deputy administrator for the space agency. If Bolden can overcome concerns about his lobbying work for rocket companies and win Senate confirmation, he will have his work cut out for him.
An expensive new launcher is now in the works to replace the space shuttle, due to retire next year, but its projected costs are rapidly rising. Meanwhile, the new Administration wants to spend more money on Earth observation at a time when the overall science program is suffering from delays and overruns. Yet Obama has proposed a boost for next year to NASA’s $18 billion budget—but decreases for the following 2 years.
The situation is so urgent that the White House last month appointed a 90-day blue ribbon panel led by former aerospace manager Norm Augustine to come up with options for the future human space flight effort, which now is focused on a return to the moon by 2020. Given that the overall agency budget is unlikely to increase substantially in coming years, the outcome will have a profound effect on science as well. “NASA is facing a crisis that many of us knew would come,” says Charles Kennel, a former NASA advisory council chair and director emeritus of Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California. Kennel says that the rush to get the new launcher in operation by 2015 already has caused a slowdown in science funding.
Bolden gives an account of his experiences in space here.