My feelings are on record about Mary Cleave, Associate Administrator at NASA for the Science Mission Directorate. She announced her retirement recently, and let’s just say I won’t be terribly sad to see her go. A lot of science missions were cut during her term.
What I am thrilled about is her replacement: Alan Stern (NASA just released this news, though I haven’t found it on their website yet.) Alan is a planetary astronomer and a fighter for unmanned science: as the Principal Investigator of the New Horizons mission to Pluto he better be! Having an actual planetary scientist in charge of Science at NASA is very, very promising. His career has depended on unmanned science packages, so that’s a plus in his favor as far as I am concerned (manned flight has enough political clout already).
I don’t know Alan personally, but I know many folks who work with him, and they speak very highly of him. He’s a go-to guy, and one of the hardest working people in the business. He’s also big on education and public outreach, which is something NASA sorely, sorely needs right now. Do we have someone in this role who will fight for unmanned science? Do I dare hope?
The news from NASA lately has been going from bad to worse (even with a potential increase in science funding in the budget, which I haven’t written about yet), but maybe, just maybe, the gradient may be heading to the plus side.