Glenn, Aldrin, NASA . . . and Gingrich?

by Quin Hillyer

Earlier this week, I wrote a column for the three big papers in Alabama making the argument that NASA — with a big base in Huntsville, hence the local interest — needs and merits re-invigoration. With the subsequent death of original astronaut and American hero John Glenn yesterday, and with second-ever moonwalker Buzz Aldrin also being in the news this week after being evacuated (at age 86) from Antarctica for health concerns (and treated by Dr. David Bowie at ground control in New Zealand!), there is no better time for the incoming Trump administration to take advantage of the attention and name a bold new leadership team for NASA.

In the column, I heaped plenty of praise on NASA for some recent successes (most of which were the culmination of projects launched years ago), and I made a big nod to the potential for private-sector space-related projects as well. Still, I say there remains a serious role for government in space — and I say that the Obama team has allowed NASA to drift. Thus . . . well, here’s an excerpt from my column:

NASA needs a boost, and maybe a re-launch. It does too much good to be ignored or allowed to wither, but its public image of Major Tom-like drift and a reputation (whether deserved or not) for unsustainable expenses both cry out for a major rescue mission.

The agency desperately needs new leadership, with two imperatives that seem contradictory but aren’t necessarily so. The first imperative is robust vision married to an ability to gain attention (and public “buy-in”) for that vision. The second is efficient, able, cost-controlling, details-oriented management to reassure Americans that their tax money is being well spent.

I actually suggest one particularly well-known person as a possible NASA chief — not so much to be hung up on that specific name, but to indicate the sort of high profile needed. I don’t want to give my surprise away (i.e., please do read my column!), but I think and hope it will spur creative thought.

Since writing my column, I reliably have been apprised of one name under serious consideration (not the name I suggested), but it was not clear whether it was on the record or off . . . so, please watch this space while I try to ascertain exactly under what level of attribution the information was shared with me.

Meanwhile, for those of us of such an age that one of our very early memories is of watching the first moon landing, by Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, on TV (me with a stuffed Snoopy, wearing a space suit, in my lap as I watched), the romance of space will never die. Men like the very-much-alive Aldrin and the late John Glenn risked their lives so that mankind could explore that final frontier. All of us remain in their debt forever, and we should also remain in awe.

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