Age 51 at the time, Goldin was vice president and general manager of TRW’s Space and Technology Group. Born in New York City, he had received a BS in mechanical engineering from City College of New York in 1962. Fascinated with space since boyhood, he immediately came to work for NASA at its Lewis Research Center in Cleveland. NASA was going to the Moon at the time, and Goldin wanted to pursue research helping the agency take the next step, to go to Mars. When it became clear later in the 1960s that NASA would not be going to Mars any time soon and started retrenching, he grew restless and frustrated, leaving NASA for the aerospace company TRW. Based in California, Goldin advanced in the corporation over the years, spending most of his time on classified military and intelligence space programs. Coming out of this “black” world, Goldin was not well known in civil space circles, but in the classified field, he was considered a significant figure.2
The National Space Council, which presided over both national security and civil space endeavors, saw the Strategic Defense Initiative, known as “Star Wars,” introduce innovative efficiency approaches to robotic space, which NSC called “faster, better, cheaper.”3 NASA, in contrast, seemed to NSC to be mired in the past, a bloated bureaucracy with big, expensive technical systems. Goldin was an exemplar of this new approach. He made maximum use of the latest microelectronic technology to bring down the size of space satellites. Goldin was known as a demanding, tough manager who could reshape an organization. He also was the opposite of Truly in one important respect: he was something of a visionary. Moreover, as Truly focused on the shuttle and space station, Goldin looked beyond to exploration and was passionate about Mars. It was his compelling ambition to lead NASA to the Red Planet. The opportunity to implement the Bush policy targeting Mars as a long-range goal was a significant reason that he left TRW and came to NASA, even though his tenure might be short, owing to the upcoming presidential election.
Goldin sailed easily through the confirmation process, becoming NASA Administrator on April і. In those hearings, he indicated he would maintain all existing programs but manage them with greater efficiency. Once in office, he told his managers that large raises for NASA were not possible in the near-term future and they would have to get NASA out of the “vicious cycle” so exemplified by Mars Observer. He described the cycle as follows: “Because NASA flies relatively few missions, program officers overload each one with instruments. This makes each spacecraft expensive. Because they’re expensive, they must be carefully tested before flight. This takes time and costs more money, raising the ante. In the end, so much is riding on each flight that NASA can’t afford to have them fail—leading to more caution, delay, and expense.”
“We’ve got to cut the Gordian Knot,” he declared, by making spacecraft smaller, lighter, and cheaper, so that NASA can take risks and not fear making mistakes.4 Soon aware that he could not pursue Bush’s Moon-Mars program, as he would have wished, because of congressional opposition, he set his sights on remaking NASA so that it would be more capable of maintaining the programs it had and be readier for Mars if and when circumstances changed. He looked at the space station and science programs with an eye to technological innovation and management reform. He focused on the robotic program as a step toward human spaceflight to Mars.
Goldin saw himself as seeking “revolutionary” change and characterized himself as a change agent. He knew he faced opposition and spoke of his adversaries as erecting barricades to his FBC policies.5 Among his adversaries, in his opinion, Fisk, the head of NASA’s Science Directorate, stood out.
Fisk was accustomed to ample autonomy, and Goldin was not about to grant that discretion. Fisk was receptive to the notions of FBC as they applied to robotic programs, as exemplified by his support for the Discovery activity. However, he was pursuing a number of large projects at the time which he defended. He and Goldin had crossed swords earlier when Goldin had been in industry. Fisk was laboring to protect the Earth Observation System from substantial
downsizing, and Goldin was seeking to sell NASA on a smaller-scale version of the system. Goldin was told by the Office of Space Science and Applications not to press his case publicly if he wanted TRW to get work with NASA, and Goldin had not forgotten what he regarded as a threat. As Administrator, he and Fisk had a tense relationship.6
Fisk’s deputy, Huntress, the planetary division director, told Goldin that Discovery was an FBC program and was already being considered positively by Congress, and thus he won favor with the NASA Administrator at an early meeting. Goldin was looking for allies to help him with his “revolution.” He saw Huntress in that category.7
Ironically, Huntress encountered resistance to FBC notions from the scientific community—not to Discovery in general or the MESUR effort, still in planning, but to the Pathfinder mission in particular. Huntress held that two values had to guide the planetary program: scientific worth and public interest. It was not enough to have one without the other. Pathfinder would meet his criteria and as a by-product help NASA politically as an institution.
Huntress had appointed a Science Definition Team for MESUR chaired by Cornell planetary scientist Steve Squyres, a Sagan protege. Various scientists on the team had concerns, and Squyres passed those on to Carl Pilcher, Huntress’s Advanced Studies Branch chief. On April 20, Michael Carr, a distinguished planetary geologist at the U. S. Geological Survey, whose long work on Mars included experience on Viking, wrote Huntress also detailing scientists’ worries about starting a critical program (Discovery or MESUR) with so risky a project as Pathfinder. He pointed out that with Pathfinder NASA was now proposing to successfully land on the Mars surface, a feat achieved only by Viking at a much greater cost; deploy a rover, something never done before; launch in 1996 (about half the time usually taken for development); and keep costs below $150 million. He saw the likelihood of failure quite high. The chairman of the Solar System Exploration Committee, Huntress’s planetary advisory body, also cautioned Huntress on Pathfinder.8
Huntress told Pilcher to compose a reply, because NASA had to have notable scientists like Carr aboard. The basic argument Huntress and Pilcher made to Carr and other skeptics was that the rewards made the risks worth taking. They held that it was important to demonstrate that NASA could land scientific instruments on the surface and also rove. Pathfinder was more than an engineering demonstration, they stressed. It was an enabler of science, and a way of showing “that NASA can do a quick, inexpensive, exciting, challenging project
involving major departures from the way most previous planetary missions have been conducted. The positive repercussions of success could be beneficial to all NASA planetary missions including MESUR.”9 The institutional and public relations values thus were important along with the scientific and technological gains.
Huntress was very much in harmony with Goldin’s reformist approach. With Goldin’s active support, Congress approved Discovery, providing funding for it to begin officially in 1993. Huntress selected Tony Spear of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to lead the Pathfinder project. Huntress regarded Spear as the kind of “out-of-the-box” manager who could make Pathfinder work. Huntress scheduled Pathfinder to launch in 1996.
Huntress wanted Pathfinder to carry a rover to Mars. Donna Shirley, JPL’s rover manager, and Spear did not get along particularly well, but they were willing to cooperate to make the overall project succeed.10 Huntress, who came from JPL, saw the NASA center as having an “old guard” that would expect Pathfinder to fail. He wanted to show them they were wrong about FBC missions, and Spear in particular was the manager to do it.11 There were individuals at JPL who questioned whether JPL should even perform such a mission, but a senior manager at the lab, Norm Haynes, told his peers that JPL had better take it on: “If we don’t do this, somebody else will.”12