www.whyville.net May 31, 2009 Weekly Issue

Science Specialist

New, High-Profile Leaders for NASA & NIH

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On Friday, President Barack Obama made a long-awaited and long-expected announcement, nominating former astronaut and Marine Corps general Charles Bolden for the job of Administrator of NASA.

If he is confirmed by the Senate, the 62-year-old Bolden, who currently serves as CEO of a private military and aerospace consulting firm, will become the first African-American and only the second astronaut to hold NASA's top post. His nomination has been popular, receiving praise from politicians, astronomers, and even former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin. It seems the only question regarding his confirmation will be about business ties to two companies which hold contracts to build parts for various NASA rockets and capsules. As Administrator, however, Bolden would face many questions about the future of the agency, especially regarding manned space exploration. As a veteran of four shuttle missions, he is expected to be a supporter of continued manned exploration, but it is unclear in exactly what form.

Obama has nominated Lori Garver, a former NASA official who had been his space policy advisor during the campaign and a member of his transition team, to be Bolden's second-in-command as Deputy Administrator of NASA. He introduced both nominees with the statement that "these talented individuals will help put NASA on course to boldly push the boundaries of science, aeronautics and exploration in the 21st century and ensure the long-term vibrancy of America's space program."

Meanwhile, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is reportedly in the final stages of screening Francis Collins, who is noted for his leadership in the Human Genome Project, for its top position of director.

The job is an enormous one, as Collins would be charged with the administration of 27 different research institutes and centers with nearly 20,000 employees, as well as the NIH's role as a funding source for research at thousands of universities, medical schools, and other research institutions across the U.S. The NIH is also central to President Obama's plans both for science and for the economy.

Some controversy has surrounded Collins as a public spokesman for science, thanks to his outspoken religious belief expressed in his bestselling book The Language of God and through the BioLogos Foundation, which asserts the compatibility of science and traditional Christianity. Still, few doubt his capability as an administrator, as he was well-regarded during his term as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) from 1993-2008, and his contributions to the Human Genome Project even earned him a Presidential Medal of Freedom. He has been praised by both former NIH director Elias A. Zerhouni and Nobel laureate David Baltimore, former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).


Author's Note: This was submitted to the blog by Tim, one of our corespondents.


Editor's Note: For more blogs from Dr. Rabiah, visit Science Chicago's website at: http://www.sciencechicagoblog.com


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