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Ex-Air Force general could be new NASA boss

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Jan 14, 2009
A retired Air Force major general could soon be heading up the US space agency after being tapped by president-elect Barack Obama to take over the helm of NASA, a transition team source said Wednesday.

An announcement that Jonathan Scott Gration is to be the new head of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to replace Michael Griffin could come later Wednesday, the source told AFP, asking to remain anonymous.

Gration, who is said to be close to Obama, was one of the president-elect's foreign policy advisors during his White House campaign.

Although he has no particular experience in space flight, Gration has logged more than 1,000 hours of combat flying with the Air Force and has extensive experience in the Middle East and Iraq.

Like all the officials appointed by the outgoing administration of President George W. Bush, Griffin submitted his resignation at the end of December.

It has seemed unlikely that the top space engineer would be asked to stay on in the post, despite support from Florida's Democratic Senator Bill Nelson.

Griffin is the 11th administrator of the US space agency and has held the post since being appointed by Bush in 2005.

Several people have been mentioned as possible replacements in the past weeks, including Charles Kennel, who was the agency's assistant associate for the office of the Mission to Planet Earth.

Gration's lack of experience with the space program would not necessarily be a handicap, experts said.

"There are a lot of previous NASA administrators who have come from other areas without a background in space," said John Logsdon, former director at the Institute of Space Policy and International Affairs at George Washington University.

"It's really about the individual, how quickly they learn and how comfortable they feel," he said. "You want someone who is a leader and can manage a large organization."

What changes Gration might bring to the nation's space policy remained a mystery though, he added.

Under plans set out by the Bush administration the aging space shuttles are due to be retired in 2010 and replaced by the Orion. This is part of the Constellation program to put men back on the Moon by 2020 and use it as a launch pad towards manned flight to Mars.

Gration retired from the Air Force in 2006 after more than 30 years of service and joined Obama's campaign.

He is the son of missionaries and spent his childhood in Congo. According to a 2007 Newsweek article, he speaks fluent Swahili.

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