Scuttlebutt: Scott Gration to be new NASA chief

By Phil Plait | January 14, 2009 3:14 pm

The news is buzzing that retired Air Force Major General Scott Gration has been tapped by Obama to replace Michael Griffin as NASA’s Administrator.

This is rumor only, but we may hear more pretty soon.

Gration would be an interesting choice. He’s not terribly connected with NASA (in 1982 he served as a White House Fellow with NASA’s then-deputy administrator Hans Mark), but his military career is impressive. Interestingly, there are rumors abounding (though with precious little evidence) that Obama wants NASA to cooperate more freely with the Department of Defense to speed up a return to the Moon and/or fill the gap after the Shuttle era but before Constellation flies… in fact, some people say he wants to scrap Constellation and go with military rockets after the Shuttle. All of these are rumors which I have been hearing, but all we’re getting is hearsay and unnamed sources. Take these with a grain of salt.

I will say that not having experience with NASA can go either way… I was not terribly happy with Sean O’Keefe when he was top banana at NASA, because he seemed far more concerned about budget than about actually exploring space. Dan Goldin had prior NASA experience, but his "faster better cheaper" plan may have led to troubles internally and externally as management of missions slipped and some probes were lost.

Anyway, because Gration is at the rumor stage, I won’t comment more on him specifically, but you can read more about him on his wikipedia page.


Comments (27)

  1. Sam

    Interesting choice. I kind of like the idea of removing redundancy in the two groups space hardware, but I understand if people want to make sure to keep the military out of civilian NASA.

  2. .

    about the (faster, cheaper and safer) Space and Moon exploration…

    these are five articles the new NASA Administrator should read:

    1. about the NASA Administrator:

    2. about the Direct’s BIG LOBBY:

    3. about the Space Solar Power:

    4. about the RISKY Hubble SM4:

    5. about the CREWLESS Shuttle:

    he’ll be HAPPY to read something of TRUE and RATIONAL about NASA and Space… :)


  3. JoeSmithCA

    Well, I’ll wait till the official announcement of an administrator. At the momment Mr. Gration is right in there with top picks like Phil Plait, Wil Wheaton, and Risk Astley. :)

  4. Grand Lunar

    I’ve read of the DoD involvement with NASA for using it’s rockets, like the Delta IV and Atlas V.
    Since they’re both in the lift capacity of Ares 1, it makes sense to me. Also, they’re proven rocket designs.

    Still, I’d hope that NASA would be ready to use Direct 2.0 in case the Ares I and Ares V don’t pan out.

  5. gss_000

    There are several problems with using the EELV. First, they are rated for satellites only, not for manned flight, so there would still be some development issues there. Second, from reports Orion would have to be redesigned and scaled down to accommodate a crew of three instead of the planned crew of six. Third, even with an EELV rocket, Ares V would still need to be made. Since it requires a lot of Ares I components, the saving would not be as big as people might think.

    And frankly, NASA is the model of efficiency and cost effectiveness compared to the military when it comes to space projects. Both the Atlas and Delta programs went way over budget, and there have been huge delays, overruns and even cancellations with other programs like TSAT and BASIC. Plus, the military/civilian connection has people all over the place decrying the Chinese space program, and there may be some international backlash (this is pure speculation). Now that probably isn’t so important, but it is a consideration.

  6. StevoR

    What was the final “Who should Obama choose as next NASA head” poll result?

    Is that still going or has it finished – & when is the final decision likely to be announced?

    Personally, I reckon Robert Zubrin, Alan S. Stern or John Glenn would be the best three choices for NASA boss – I like Phil Plait’s blog too much to want to lose it to his getting promoted! 😉

  7. StevoR

    Selfish of me I know & I’m sure Phil Plait’d do a great job if he was chosen but there you go .. 😉

  8. Bein'Silly

    Looks like its official now according to that Wiki page linked to here :

    The incoming Obama administration has named him as the next NASA Administrator.[1]

    Also from that :

    … in August 1991 he was appointed Chief of Safety for the 86th Fighter Wing, both based at Ramstein AB, Germany..”

    Ramstein? I thought that was just a heavy metal sorta band! 😉

    Being serious now for a sec; well I’m not sure about this.

    Having a military bloke in charge over NASA’s scientists with him being perhaps more military focused and possibly giving the military more influence and say, I don’t think I feel really happy with that idea. Still I could be wrong – & hope I am, just my gut reaction. I’ll give it time & see what he’s like & where he tries to take things.

  9. Being the cynic that I am, I agree with you Bein’Silly. Gut reaction is…not a good thing. But wait and see.

  10. csrster

    Bein’Silly – nah, it’s a Nazi war-cemetery :-)

    I once worked with a guy who went to school with Rammstein’s keyboard player.

  11. @gaetano marano: Are you serious with these articles of yours?

  12. Nigel Depledge

    Bein’Silly and csrster – I would strongly recommend seeing Rammstein live if you ever get the chance. Their live show is superb.

    Anyhow, back on topic:
    I agree with gss_ooo about the military rockets. They are rated for satellites only, not for people. I believe the issue is with the g-force experienced by the payload during flight. The rockets need to be a bit gentler with people (unless you want them all to pass out from g-LOC until they are in orbit). I think this has implications for the amount of fuel the rocket needs to carry – IIUC, a slower lift requires a larger quantity of fuel.

    I hope there is a rocket scientist out there who can correct me if I’m wrong.

  13. Matthew Ota

    Um, too many people these days do not study their space history. Did you know that in NASA’s early days it used military launch vehicles exclusively for manned spaceflight until 1968? All of the Mercury and Gemini missions were launched on converted military launch vehicles, from the Mercury Redstone thorough the Mercury Atlas and the Gemini Titan. The missiles were modified to man-rate them for manned use.

    NASA did not utilize clean sheet launch vehicles for manned spaceflight until Apollo 7 was launched on a Saturn 1B on October 11, 1968.

    I am not a rocket scientist but I did stay at the Holiday Inn…..

  14. MadScientist

    An “interesting choice”? Gee, you’re kind. I’d be saying thinks like “yeah, that’s exactly what a scientific institution needs – a career moron from the military as chief”. Weren’t many of the previous chiefs bad enough? Is there some kind of contest going on about how useless an appointee can be before scientists pack up and go elsewhere?

  15. David D

    Hope and change!

  16. Charles Boyer

    I’d be saying thinks like “yeah, that’s exactly what a scientific institution needs – a career moron from the military as chief”.

    It’s really nice that you are free to insult a man you’ve probably never met who has spent his career helping to preserve your freedom.

    Sometimes America is truly an ironic place.

  17. Spiv

    Eh, to be honest we /need/ someone who’s savvy politically here. Griffin is a smart guy- very smart, but he’s spent a lot of time trying to be lead engineer over the program. To say that this has caused some issues is probably an understatement.

    For converting EELVs: man-rating them means stepping up redundancy on a huge number of systems. Redundancy means more weight. More weight means less to orbit. Less to orbit means they aren’t as good of an option as they appear to be. I’m not saying they can’t provide us something, but frankly by the time we have those converted I’d half expect space-x to be launching crew for 1/10th the cost anyway.

    Ares-1/5 vs direct? No strong opinions from me. I think both have their selling points, but ares-1 is under the microscope right now. It has performance issues. It has safety issues. It has cost issues. Rocket science turns out to be worthy of its reputation. Truth is I’ll be happy to work on whatever they put in front of me if it helps get people and science into space.

    My main concern is that he’s going to have military money mindedness. NASA has a pitiful slice in comparison; if we had the DOD budget we could be launching 2 shuttles a day and have a fleet of 200+ assuming there’s no benefit to bulk operations. Hopefully he can scale his expectations; not expect to solve problems by throwing more money at it. Apparently they are also talking about having Lori Garver as the dep. admin, which presumably would give the the new administrator the NASA-specific sounding board we’re all worried about.

  18. An observation on the American attitude to the military in the USA. One extremes seems to be the MadScientist view referring to a “career moron”. The other, and seemingly more pervasive, is the view that appears to have an exaggerated respect or awe for the military. For example every time a currently serving or ex military person stands up to make a comment in public at a rally or on tv, the host (politician, tv anchor or Mike Moore for example) will say something like “First of all we thank you for your service…” and much cheering and adulation ensues. God forbid someone actually criticises a current or former serviceman or woman because they help preserve your freedom.

    As a foreigner looking in both attitudes make me cringe a little. Is the seemingly overly respectful position an overcompensation to the backlash from Vietnam or has it always been this way?

    I’m not criticising or anything, just interested.

  19. Charles Boyer


    Our military is 100% voluntary. For whatever reason one chooses to join it, if they stand in the line of fire, they have earned my respect. There aren’t many jobs where getting blown to bits is as real a possibility. And yes, the military has preserved our freedom, and its very presence prevented WWIII IMO.

  20. DGKnipfer

    @ Shane,

    One of the reasons for the current respect given to military member is a kind of backlash on the disrespect received during the Vietnam era. Many people who opposed U.S. actions and activities in Vietnam dumped all their disrespect and discontent for the government at that time on the most visible target they could, military members. During that time being in uniform in public wasn’t always safe. Later many people came to regret that as it was largely not the fault of the poor young enlisted guy that at that time was probably a draftee.

    As the US transitioned to an all volunteer force many Americans came to the opinion (slowly) that service members should be faulted only for their own actions and given the benefit of the doubt as they have volunteered to stand in harm’s way. They are there to defend the rights of every other American and give up many of those rights in order to do so. They are generally underpaid, often overworked, and serve in the military not because they have too or because they can’t find better work (a common misconception), but because they believe in what they’re doing. That doesn’t make every military member worthy of great respect, but it is generally a sign that they probably have earned at least a little respect.

    Daniel G. Knipfer, TSgt USAF, Retired

  21. David D


    Do you perhaps think that they do not deserve our gratitude? In what way is expressing thanks for their service “overly respectful?”

  22. gss_000

    Re: NASA’s military tradition

    There’s no doubt NASA has military roots, nor can it be ignored. However, NASA today is a civilian space agency and the overlap of military and civilian space agencies is a big deal around the world. If you look at some foreign coverage, you’ll see there is a lot of consternation even on the military use of the Galileo global positioning system in Europe. This is not something that can be ignored.

    Oh, and if people want to look at a launch in action, a Delta IV is launching an NRO satellite tonight. This is the third launch for the heavy launch variant and it has already been delayed on several occasions. Most recently, the launch was delayed Tuesday and Wednesday due to minor technical problems with the rocket.

    To give the United Launch Alliance credit, they have never had a catastrophic failure yet, although between the Delta and Atlas there have only been ~20 launches.

  23. MadScientist


    A lot of scientists really don’t like the idea of working with a chief from the military. The military tend to be extremely secretive while most good scientists like to share what they know (although often not before publishing). I’ve got buddies in the USAF and the US Naval Air Force and although I love them all, I wouldn’t want any of them running a scientific research institution. If it’s going to be someone from the military you’d think they could at least choose someone who works a lot with scientists – like people from the US Naval Observatory. A lot of the top brass like to come in, bark orders, and totally screw things over; a lifetime in the military service seems to condition them to believing this is how things get done (and that may be so in the military).

    NASA has a lot of challenges; personally I think the space vehicle projects should be funded pretty much entirely with extra money from the government otherwise many other projects will simply have to be shut down to fund the vehicle development and testing. I don’t know how much of a push there will be to fulfil Dubbyah’s delusions of putting a monkey on Mars; looking at all the hassles of the International Space Station, I wouldn’t hold my breath. It would be nice to have an administrator who has at least worked extensively with scientists and can understand them rather than a stand-over guy. I see nothing posted about this guy that would make me think he has any business whatsoever being chief of NASA. Such lousy appointments seem to be the norm these days though; the chief of Australia’s civilian research organization, the CSIRO, is nothing more than the former head of “occupational health and safety” at a commercial enterprise – some qualification that is. The choice of the chief of NASA is an important issue because not any monkey can do a decent job. Bad decisions made over years will simply continue to cripple the organization.

    Of course I’ll be waiting for breaking news that will make me eat my hat, but I’m pretty smug that my hat is safe.

  24. Thanks for the feedback guys. As I said not a criticism, just an observation.

    @David D, not at all. It is my opinion that military members probably deserve more money for what is a fairly thankless task too. As an outsider looking in the overt displays of gratitude seem almost of that “USA all the way thank you Jesus” public displays that make a few of us uncomfortable. Some of it also appears as cynical political opportunism. Exploiting the guys and gals in uniform with these overt public displays. I’m not talking about welcome home parades or thank you ceremonies either where you’d expect a show of gratitude.

    We in Oz come from a culture where we have a history of cutting down tall poppies. We do have some short-lived hero worship that stops after a while because we don’t want these people getting too big for their boots do we. This attitude is probably what would make the average Aussie cringe with what appears to be an overt public display. We’re pretty restrained when it comes to that sort of thing. We’re a culture that has trouble getting our bums off a seat for a standing ovation for example.

    As I said I find it interesting and no offence was intended. Thanks for responding.

  25. gss_000

    One thing about Gration that isn’t getting a whole lot of press, but is a fact, is he helped Obama draft his detailed space plan back in August. Does that make him qualified enough? We’ll see.

  26. The Patter

    This will spell the death knell of NASA as a functioning agency. He might know a lot about Africa, but he knows nothing about space. and even less about managing.

  27. Amalekite

    And yes, the military has preserved our freedom, and its very presence prevented WWIII IMO.

    How has itpreserved your freedoms? By takingaway the freedoms of people living inIraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan and much of Latin America?

    By torturing and brutalising so many around the world?

    Preventing WW III? Nonsense. On the contrary it is *because* of US military that there is the danger of WW III.

    Oh & the US courts have done far more to preserve your freedoms than the military.

    Blind faith & undeserved and exxaggerated fawning over the military is a step towards dictatorship, war and suffering.

    The US populace in general is overly fond of the simplistic, brutal, counter-productive use of violence and murderous force – both at home & worse abroad. It is long overdue that they grew up and realised that far from improving matters military involvemnt esp. outside their own boarders almost always makes things far, far worse.


    I’m very glad Gration is NOT going to run NASA. I wouldn’t put him in charge of *any* civilian organisation.


    The Amalekites were one of many peoples utterly exterminated by the Jewish tribes such groups also including the Canaanites, Midianites, Philistines (who btw .weren’t what they’ve been slandered as), Jebusites, Amorites, Moabites and many others incl. the Palestineans today. One wonders where the Holocaust memorials and days and moves are for all of them??? King Saul supposedly lost Yahweh’s favour, his kingship and ultimatley his life for showing mercy to and sparing the life of an Amalekite king. Jews today use “Amalekite”as a perjorative term for non-jews percieved as their enemies esp. Palestineans & also atheists. The Jewish sacred texts explicitly call for the extermination and commands the genocide of all the Amalekites.


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