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Tuesday, April 07, 2009


Nick Lampson for NASA Administrator?

posted by Aziz P. at Tuesday, April 07, 2009 permalink View blog reactions
Eric Berger, science blogger at the Houston Chronicle, points out that NASA remains a headless organization under Obama's administration:

It's clear Obama is unhappy with NASA's plan to rely on Russian support for five (or maybe even six) years while awaiting results from its work-in-progress Constellation program. He also just doesn't seem all that interested in space.

These are hard times for folks at Johnson Space Center. They support manned spaceflight. But the shuttle program is coming to an end in a couple of years and the new boss may not support a robust manned spaceflight program in the future. That's bad for Houston.

Perhaps even worse right now, NASA doesn't even have a new boss and the uncertainty over the future is palpable and damaging. The message to NASA from the President, whether intentional or not, is pretty much: "You're not a high priority."

The comment thread is interesting however, pointing out that NASA's Johnson Space Center in Clear Lake is now represented by a freshman Republican, Pete Olsen, who narrowly defeated incumbent Nick Lampson (D). As a result, NASA lost a huge amount of political capital, to the detriment of the entire Houston region.

As it happens, this hasn't gone unnoticed by the residents of the Clear Lake area, resulting in a grassroots effort to draft/pitch Lampson for the job as NASA's chief. The Bay Area Houston blog has a post on Lampson's qualifications:

Prior to re-redistricting, Nick served the Galveston, Beaumont, area and a small part of Harris County which included NASA/JSC. He has always been an advocate for the space program and during his last term forged bipartisan support for long term funding. Unfortunately, he wasn't a republican, so the voters elected rookie Pete Olson.

NASA/JSC lost a tremendous amount of clout when Olson was elected. With a Democratic Administration and a rookie Congressman, JSC had no voice in the White House. Lampson was in line for the chair of the Space Subcommittee which oversees NASA. Olson, as a rookie, is now the ranking republican on the Committee. The chair, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is a Democrat from Arizona and a good friend of Nick. Gabrielle is married to an astronaut, which just can't hurt.

Nick, as a Congressman, had always been one to reach out to everyone in his district. During his last two years, he had townhall meetings across his district, including a monthly event at a local NASA restaurant to discuss space policy. The crowd was a great mix of young, old, engineers, administrators, republicans, and Democrats. There was never a screening process on attendance, or a screening process for questions and answers.

And notes that Pete Olsen himself is supportive of Lampson taking the post. The Houston establishment is coalescing around Lampson, in fact - a Houston Chronicle story reported that Lampson was a finalist contender for the spot, and the Texas Congressional delegation has already written to Obama in support.

Lampson himself is on-board, as well - a local news station, KFDM News, spoke with Lampson on the phone about it:

KFDM News spoke with Lampson by telephone Thursday morning. He told us he hasn't been contacted by the Obama administration nor spoken with anyone in the administration about the NASA post.

"They are keeping it real close to the vest," said Lampson. I don't know anything about it. I'd be flattered if I were asked. I'd certainly give it consideration. I'd be honored to serve if I'm asked."

Lampson says he's aware that some time ago lawmakers wrote letters supporting him for the position.

There are other candidates, including a former astronaut, but it's clear that NASA needs a politician rather than a technocrat at the top if the agency is going to thrive and make tough choices ahead.

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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.