Read It And Weep

Bill “Ballast” Nelson is going to be head of NASA. This is almost the worst possible pick. Is there any level on which this administration is not a disaster, with less than two months in?

[Friday-morning update]

Five questions that Nelson should be asked (but probably won’t be).

The last is the most important. He’s never given any inkling of having anything resembling a vision for humanity’s future in space.

35 thoughts on “Read It And Weep”

  1. I’m actually waiting for the wave of feminist discontent to manifest itself. Expectations have been raised for months that the job would go to a woman, and short lists of such women have been in heavy circulation.

    (And, truth to tell, some of those names *would* make for far better NASA administrators by any objective standard.)

    But Biden still has loads of political latitude right now, so I’m sure he can ride out the blowback from his left.

    1. Lori Garver, perhaps?

      This isn’t isolated. Whoever is running things in the White House is doing this sort of crap and worse across the federal government. The military in particular is being abused.

      The only conclusion I can see is that they really want another US Civil War and will continue turning the screws until they get one.

      1. Garver would be quite capable (and has sensible views on procurement), but she also would have been harder to confirm…she has a “does not play well with others” vibe that has rubbed some people the wrong way (and I think she appreciates this, given how freely she has been talking in publicly lately).

        But there was also Wanda Austin, former president and chief executive of The Aerospace Corporation; Pam Melroy, a former astronaut who later held positions at the FAA and DARPA; Ellen Stofan, the Director of the National Air and Space Museum; and Wanda Sigur, former vice president and general manager for civil space at Lockheed Martin. (Kendra Horn’s name was also floated, but I never sensed she had an inside track; I think it was mostly Horn herself floating her name.)

        I could have lived with Stofan or Austin. I’m more concerned that Sigur and Melroy have too strong connections to Legacy Aerospace.

        But as for Nelson, this definitely feels like an appointment where Biden personally asserted himself: he’s picked an old friend and crony from the Senate, of the very same age. I don’t think Kamala Harris or a lot of the White House staff would have picked him.

          1. I knew Lori Garver back when she was editor of Ad Astra, and am probably the main reason she supported ARRM. I sold her an article called “Harvesting the Near-Earthers” in 1989. I liked her, for what it’s worth, but back then I liked everyone who sent me money.

          2. Pam would be great. I had hoped she’d be tapped for the Administrator spot. Having worked for her at FAA and DARPA, I’ve seen her immense talents up close. She gets things done, and makes it possible for other people to get things done. She is relentless, and is razor sharp. If she’s in the Deputy role, I think it will largely undo the damage done by Ballast Nelson – perhaps push it into the positive region.

        1. You folks are living in a fantasy world. Have you seen Biden’s other appointments?!

          If not Nelson, Biden would’ve appeased the left by picking the woman of color with both wisdom and extensive space flight experience, Whoopi Goldberg.

      2. Funny, though….They’re picking the least competent possible for senior leadership positions for government agencies..

        1. No, it makes sense — that way they can’t make waves when the unelected bureaucrats who are actually in charge of the agencies make decisions (I presume you’ve seen Yes, Minister?). Also make great scapegoats!

          Think of the incompetent muppets as ablative heat shield material. Useful but neither important nor reusable.

        2. “Funny, though….They’re picking the least competent possible for senior leadership positions for government agencies..”

          Technical and managerial competency doesn’t matter if the objective is insinuating mass quantities of wokeism into the institution.

  2. There are several good reasons that B Nelson is a poor choice

    * he bullied his way to a shuttle ride.
    * He was instrumental in SLS wasted billions and wasted time
    * He was actively anti COTS and Crew

    In retrospect, NASA had a huge FUBAR and a huge success in the last decade. and BN was wrong both times.

  3. There’s an old adage: First-rate managers pick competent subordinates, because they want the organization to succeed. Second-rate managers pick less-competent subordinates, because they don’t want to outshined or replaced by an underling.

    I think that’s how this might play out.

    1. It’s probably just a straightforward political deal. Nelson got this job for supporting Biden. The real question is why did Nelson settle for this job? Could be the best he could hope for? Or was there some angle?

  4. These things are sent to try us. We’ll just have to see how things work out.

    I’m not hopeful, but I’m not especially concerned either, given that what NASA does or doesn’t do is a matter of rapidly declining importance anent manned spaceflight. By the time this misbegotten administration is over, that importance will likely have declined to zero or the next thing to it.

    1. I do think Bridenstine baked a lot of stuff into the recipe that Nelson would not be able to easily undo. I think even CLPS would be hard to cancel at this point.

      If Nelson just ends up auto-piloting things – and at his age, that is a srong possibility – we could do worse…because, as you say, commercial ventures are reaching a critical mass of capability now. A lot harder to squeeze this toothpaste back into the tube than it was in the 2000’s or the 1990’s.

      1. That’s exactly right.

        And there is an additional reason to hope Nelson won’t be utterly godawful in the job. Yes, he’s carried a lot of water for OldSpace in his time, but much of that was motivated more by fealty to jobs on the Space Coast than to OldSpace, per se. It’s now NewSpace driving job growth on the Space Coast. So I don’t expect any gratuitous interference with any NewSpace outfit that has a payroll in central FL.

  5. And, as I expected, the disappointment from certain sectors of Biden’s base is already manifesting itself:

    “Many in the space community thought Biden would make the historic decision to nominate a woman for the job.”
    — Marina Koren, The Atlantic

    “My choice, my preference, my hope was that we would have a woman. I would have loved to have a black woman. But I’m happy with Senator Nelson, provided he has a female deputy.”
    — Charles Bolden

    A depressing mark of where we are right now, culturally.

    P.S Bolden acually flew with Nelson on STS-61-C, so the tepidness of his endorsement of “Ballast” is rather striking. Conversely, Jim Bridenstine – whose nomination Nelson viscerally opposed (even if their relationship later improved) – was more unqualified in his endorsement statement today.

    1. It’s worse, Nelson pushed hard for Charlie Bolden per Ms. Garver’s tweets of the past couple of days.

        1. But Charlie Bolden once had to share a Shuttle with “ol’ Ballast.” Bridenstine never had to do that. Maybe that has something to do with their differential levels of rhetorical support for Nelson.

    2. That might all be down to Bolden having had to do the equivalent of sharing a tent on a camping trip with Nelson back in the day while Bridenstine did not.

  6. I think Dick Eagleson and Richard M have a good point:

    An incompetent manager will waste a few billion and hasten NASA’s journey down the drain hole of irrelevancy.

    Commercial ops are the way of the future and if NASA is fiddling around with already-obsolete, silly projects then we waste only a few billion.

    We all know that those billions would NOT go to projects we like if things like SLS were canceled.

    The only threat I can see (happy to hear about others) is a flailing NASA and Pork-Producing congresscritters laying down rules, via FAA and other out-of-control regulatory agencies, which are designed to inhibit Private success.

    1. The National Aerospace Suppression Agency finally has a leader that can expand the envelope of Earth Science to its fully grounded state.

      First order of business, outlawing any rocket that adds CO2 to our atmosphere. Thus making SLS the only legal means of access to space, but since water vapor is also major greenhouse gas, priority will be given to the development of a new upper stage to SLS that will be powered strictly from the expansion of compressed, exothermic and recycled gasses collected from the US Capitol chambers.

      Once we have secured the necessary carbon credits to fund further space exploration, we will send the first inter-sectional lunar mission to extend our reach to the regions of the moon that have not been explored by women of color.

      Once that has been achieved we will expand the envelope to include the exploration of the planet formerly named Mars (because of the relationship of ancient Western Roman culture to toxic masculinity and war). Therefore a mxnned mission to Planet Claire will be our next objective. Once the gender identity of all previous surface landers has been determined, we can proceed to the exploration of the question of whether Claire had an indigenous gender or whether that became contaminated by Gaian interlopers.

      1. Correction:
        The editor wishes to correct an inadvertent error in the previous report. Since the indigenous gender of the planet in question is as yet undetermined, the androgynous planet ‘Chris’ was erroneously reported as the planet Claire, due to a mix-up with a review of the legacy hits of the 80’s rock band “The B52s”.

    2. Salient point, that last bit. I’m frankly more worried about a regulatory jihad against commercial space than I am about whatever mischief Bill Nelson might get up to. The NASA Administrator is not a particularly powerful position at the end of the day. Regulators, on the other hand, can, to a considerable extent, rule by decree.

  7. By the way, M Puckett mentioned Lori Garver’s reaction, and if you haven’t been following her Twitter account the last few days, you should. She’s simply unloading on Nelson (complete with Soviet comparisons), and even taking shots at Charles Bolden. It’s just amazing.

    For example: “Truth telling is a tough business. It appears we prefer a guy who ordered the potatoes be planted in March – even tho they haven’t sprouted after 10 yrs & $20B – to a woman who drove positive change. I did it with eyes wide open – not for personal benefit. Unchained it will be!”


    1. Hell hath no fury and all that.

      Reading that, I felt I could detect the growing smell of burning bridges on the air.

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