Criticism from Mars Rivals

The euphoria of the Mars science community was not shared by other scientists who saw both their status and resources diminished. In spite of Weiler’s denials, they saw a zero-sum game of winners and losers. Astronomers and advocates of planetary missions other than Mars were vocally unhappy. They spoke of “collateral damage” and pointed to O’Keefe’s Hubble cancellation decision as evidence that Bush and O’Keefe had no real understanding for science. Refer­ring to funding choices, Fisk remarked, “Some of us feel like lesser species.”

Fisk warned O’Keefe that NASA was creating first – and second-class citizens, by splitting the agency’s scientific constituency into haves and have-nots. This was “an unnecessary distinction which I think will work against the program.” What non-Mars scientists saw as a problem, others viewed as good manage­ment. Dave Radzanowski, the White House OMB official overseeing the NASA budget, applauded O’Keefe’s decisions and spoke of “setting priorities and showing leadership.” NASA was getting the largest increase in budget among agencies, other than Defense and Homeland Security, and making decisions in accord with presidential preferences, he pointed out.

Weiler, who was a telescope astronomer, not a planetary scientist, tried to assuage the self-identified losers by arguing they were seeing their wishes de­ferred, not cancelled. Over the long haul, if NASA gained, everyone would ben­efit. “I love all my children,” he avowed.46 However, in August, O’Keefe shocked many scientists by moving Weiler from his SMD leadership and making him director of the Goddard Space Flight Center, a shift many observers regarded as a demotion for the dynamic science chief and possibly related to differences with O’Keefe over the Hubble service termination issue. O’Keefe replaced him with Al Diaz, who had been director of Goddard. Diaz was an engineer by training and had been Fisk’s deputy when Fisk ran the Science Office. Although an able manager and interested in Mars, Diaz was not regarded by the science community as “one of us,” as Weiler had been so regarded. Nor did Diaz seem comfortable with the science advocacy role that came with the job.47

Criticism of the budgetary choices also came from Congress. Politicians were generally supportive of the Moon-Mars destinations in principle. But several worried about costs, and Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), chair of the House Sci­ence Committee, expressed concern that NASA could become a one-mission agency.48 He especially worried about the future of the Earth Science activity.

Throughout most of 2004, lawmakers sparred over the new NASA mission in committee hearings, awaiting the November election results, and postponing most federal spending actions. John Kerry opposed Bush for the White House, and neither presidential candidate had much to say about space. Kerry agreed in general with the human exploration goal but claimed he could manage the space program better. Neither said anything about paying for the mission. When the votes were counted in November, Bush prevailed, as did Republican control of Congress. Stability in political leadership seemed to presage relatively smooth sailing for Moon-Mars and NASA, at least for a while.

But there were technical issues complicating funding which had little to do with the election. The repairs to the shuttle fleet, grounded since February 2003, were proving both quite difficult and very expensive. It looked like the shuttle return-to-flight bill could be $2.2 billion. At the same time, O’Keefe had bent with the avalanche of criticism he had received for his Hubble decision. He still refused to use a shuttle for the Hubble servicing mission, but he did agree to seriously consider a robotic-repair mission. He had announced that fact in June at an American Astronomical Society meeting, to loud applause. But work since then was showing that a robotic-repair mission was exceedingly complex and could also cost $2 billion or more.

Even with the raises contemplated at the time of Bush’s decision, these un­anticipated shuttle and Hubble costs would prove a serious burden. O’Keefe pled for help for these unforeseen costs from the White House and was refused. Comptroller Isakowitz admonished Congress to give the agency what Bush had requested. He said that anything less in money would not only affect human spaceflight but also have a “negative” impact on science.49

Those scientists and their allies who did not identify with the Bush vision were more wary than ever of the trends they saw. It did not help their cause that many leading U. S. scientists had vehemently and visibly opposed Bush during the election. James Hansen, NASA’s best-known climate change researcher, had been especially vocal in opposition to Bush. Marburger himself admitted that Bush and the scientific community had differences.50 Mars was doing extremely well under the vision—but other fields were perceived as suffering. However, Mars scientists were not entirely pleased because of Diaz. Diaz asked Figueroa to be his deputy. Figueroa in turn had to relinquish his Mars program director

role and asked Doug McCuistion to take on that task. McCuistion was a 48-year – old systems engineer with a background as a manager in Earth sciences. In ef­fect, Diaz appeared to have “demoted” Mars organizationally since McCuistion reported to a deputy rather than directly to the associate administrator.51

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