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New Wings for NASA?

The appointment of a new NASA administrator typically comes months after the 20 January swearing-in of a new president. But Washington insiders say that President-elect Barack Obama may name his choice for the space chief before he takes the oath of office on Tuesday. The current leading candidate, retired Air Force Major General Jonathan Scott Gration, is an unknown in the space community. But the former fighter pilot became a key military adviser to the Obama campaign after he retired in 2006.

While that familiarity may eventually be a boon to NASA, Gration's name has already generated some criticism on Capitol Hill. "I think President Bush made a mistake when he appointed someone without NASA experience in Sean O'Keefe to head the agency," Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) said yesterday, referring to the predecessor of current agency chief Mike Griffin. Nelson, a longtime space advocate who flew on the space shuttle, added that he hopes Obama will choose someone familiar with NASA.