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U.S. Space Program: A Learning Experience? : Science, not hardware, must guide a Goldin administration

March 15, 1992

Rockets are the moving force of the nation's space program, but their thunderous launchings often make the whole enterprise seem nothing more than an exotic transportation system. That's probably why the first question asked about a space program is, "Where is it going?" The real question is, "What does humanity need to know?"

President Bush's choice to head the National Aeronautics and Space Administration may change the usual first question--he may put acquiring knowledge of space back on top the agency's mission list.

The nominee is Daniel S. Goldin, who manages TRW Inc.'s Space and Technology Group at Redondo Beach. He has years of experience in managing the science and engineering required to get spy and communications satellites, and other, mostly secret projects, into space and keep them there.

Because the work is so hush-hush, Goldin is not widely known, even among space enthusiasts. Rep. George E. Brown Jr. (D-Colton), chairman of the House Space, Science and Technology Committee, had never heard of him until the White House made the announcement.

For that reason, there are few clues to the kinds of policies toward which Goldin might lean in the new job. But one looks promising. A colleague says Goldin believes in defining goals, planning ways to achieve them and getting on with it.

If Goldin--whose background is almost entirely industrial, not political--can get someone to run interference for him in Washington to allow him to define, plan and get on with it, he may indeed be what NASA needs.

Chairman Brown, who says he "loves astronauts," still thinks that Goldin's different perspective can help and that the White House probably chose him for that very reason.

The most perceptive look so far at NASA's goals came last year from a commission, appointed by Bush and headed by Norman Augustine, chairman of Martin Marietta Corp., a defense and space contractor.

It said NASA should rely more on unmanned rockets than on manned shuttles to lift projects into space and should give its highest priority to science.

It said NASA must be clearer about what it wants to learn with a space platform, and then make it cheaper and less complicated.

There are hints in Goldin's background that he would be comfortable with much of the Augustine Commission report, especially its support for an eventual manned mission to Mars. He is quoted in a recent issue of Space News magazine as saying "we have got to start sending out ships to colonize space."

Still, his 25 years at the cutting edge of designing satellites to gather information might also incline him toward unmanned probes for the science that the commission thought so important.

Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.), who will chair hearings on the nomination, said he wants to be sure Goldin was not picked because he will take orders from the White House and not Congress.

Here's hoping Gore will find that Goldin was picked because he and the White House both like the Augustine report and because he is very bit as interested in the science of space as in the hardware it takes to do the science.

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