January 17, 2009

NASA Chief Resigns

After four years on the job, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin bid farewell to co-workers on Friday, thanking them for their hard work during his tenure and urging them to support his successor.

Griffin said his goodbyes during a live televised address from NASA headquarters in Washington. He became NASA's 11th administrator in 2005, just a couple of years after the Columbia disaster.

Griffin, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, offered his letter of resignation as the federal government makes its switch over to the Obama administration. Griffin said in recent months that he would be willing to stay on, but, in the end, was not asked.

Obama has yet to name a replacement, but retired Air Force Gen. J. Scott Gration, who has almost no space experience but was a military adviser to the president-elect during the campaign, is considered to be a likely candidate.

Senate Space Subcommittee Chairman Bill Nelson, D-Fla, has admitted Gration's lack of experience has caused some concern.

Griffin, however, holds a doctorate in aerospace engineering as well as multiple other degrees. He worked earlier in his career at NASA and was serving as space department head at Johns Hopkins University's applied physics lab in Laurel, Md., when asked to take over NASA.

During his farewell speech, Griffin urged employees to support the next NASA administrator as well as the new president's space policy, whatever that turns out to be.

Griffin was a key figure in the Bush administrations move to retire the space shuttles by 2010 and return astronauts to the moon by 2020 with a new rocket ship. However, many critics, including some NASA employees, have questioned the ideas behind The Constellation program.

Griffin said during his resignation: "NASA will look great whether we're asked to return to the moon and establish permanent presence there and go to Mars, as I think we ought to be asked to do, or whether we're asked to carry out some other task."

Griffin told employees that in a time of transition, the No. 1 job is to cooperate and support the new leaders.

"If you can't support the agenda, then the proper thing to do is to leave," he said.

"There are many different things that you could do with a $17.5 billion NASA civil space program. But what we can't do is squabble and fight."

Associate administrator Christopher Scolese will serve as acting administrator until the new administration appoints a new NASA chief.

Griffin added that his greatest accomplishment while leading NASA was getting space shuttles flying again after the Columbia accident and coming close to finishing the international space station.

"Nothing - nothing in the world - is harder than picking yourself up after a cataclysm like that and moving forward, and we've done it," he said.


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