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Who Will Sit at NASA's Helm?

President Barack Obama chatted today with the astronauts completing work on NASA's international space station, joking with the crew for nearly half an hour. But he gave no sign of his choice to head the space agency. Obama has promised more than once in recent weeks that he will soon name a NASA administrator, but, like several of the space agency's projects, the launch keeps slipping. In recent days, two potential candidates won appointments to other posts, and the rumor mill seems to be drying up.

The delay is causing jitters on Capitol Hill.

A letter to the president recently signed by 14 lawmakers and sent to the White House last week warns that "NASA faces numerous time-sensitive challenges and needs decisive leadership." The bipartisan group adds that "it is imperative for NASA to have a leader" who can wrestle with the gap between retirement of the space shuttle and launch of a new rocket while preserving "the agency's cutting edge science and aeronautics programs."

Word last week was that a selection would come soon, but two rumored finalists now have other jobs. Steve Isakowitz, a former NASA official, was reappointed as the Department of Energy's chief financial officer, and U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Scott Gration is going to Sudan to serve as a White House special envoy.