NASA's Longest-Serving Boss Resigning

Wednesday, October 17th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ Daniel Goldin, who pushed NASA to be leaner and faster and then came under fire for it, said Wednesday he will resign from the space agency next month after nearly 10 years in the top job.

The longest-serving administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration will leave in mid-November with a record of 160 successful space missions, 11 failures _ including back-to-back Mars flops _ and an international space station that is now permanently occupied.

His tenure was sometimes tumultuous, with some in his own agency attacking his ``faster, better, cheaper'' philosophy of building and flying spacecraft. Critics said his approach endangered the space shuttle and other programs. And Goldin acknowledged the space agency experienced a brain drain in recent years.

But to his critics, Goldin had only this to say Wednesday: ``So be it.''

``You want to know something? If you come to a job like this and love to be loved, you will never do the right thing,'' he said. ``I not only have no apologies, but I am thrilled with the performance'' of NASA.

Last year, however, Goldin acknowledged to a Senate panel, ``We probably cut too tight.'' He had reduced the space agency work force from 25,000 to 18,500 in seven years.

Goldin sent a letter of resignation to President Bush on Wednesday morning, then announced the news to NASA employees in a speech that was televised at the nation's space centers. Many were surprised at the timing, although not by the departure itself, which had been rumored ever since Bush took office.

``I had a lease on the program. I'm handing the lease back on November 17th,'' said an emotional Goldin, who was sitting on the edge of an auditorium stage. ``There will be good people who will come behind.''

Goldin, 61, who left the aerospace industry in spring 1992 to head NASA, said he wants to spend more time with his wife, daughters and grandchildren and, eventually, move from Washington back to Southern California. He promised to work with the Bush Administration to find a temporary successor, who would serve as acting administrator until a replacement is named.

``After 10 years, it's time (to leave),'' he said, but added that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 played into his decision.

He said he heard the airliner crash into the Pentagon, 1 1/2 miles from his office at NASA headquarters, and felt ``very vulnerable, also very angry.'' But what really got to him, he said, was going to New York City last week and seeing what was left of the World Trade Center.

``Like many American families, you ask yourself, `What are you working for?''' he told reporters, noting that he often put in 18-hour workdays. ``I find that I get such intellectual satisfaction and such personal satisfaction from the job, that it drives me. But on the other hand, when all gets said and done, if I do have a family and I don't interact with them, what have I accomplished in my life? My life was out of balance.''

At a meeting of space station researchers in Cape Canaveral, a few hundred attendees gathered around a television in a conference center to watch Goldin's farewell speech. More than a few participants, including NASA officials, declined to comment on his departure.

``He was effective in some areas and less effective in others,'' said Samuel Durrance, executive director of the Florida Space Research Institute and a two-time space flier.

Just the day before, the head of NASA's space flight office, Joseph Rothenberg, announced that he would be retiring on Dec. 15. Goldin insisted the two departures were unrelated and had nothing to do with NASA's $4.5 billion overrun in the space station program.

The space shuttle program is safer now, Goldin said, than it was when he was appointed NASA administrator in April 1992 by President Bush's father. It also runs more cheaply, he said.

``I've been administrator, I think, for 57 shuttle launches, more than half of the whole series of launches, and we've never had any serious injury. The shuttle has gotten better and better,'' he told employees.

Goldin noted that NASA has launched 171 missions during his tenure, with only 11 lost.

``The total loss in dollars is about a half-billion dollars, and we launched $23 billion into space. And I think about the ruckus. You know, ohhh, we lost a few little spacecraft on Mars.'' In a high-pitched, squeaky voice he added: ``Cute, little, itty, bitty spacecraft.'' NASA employees laughed.

``That's OK,'' he added. ``It's really OK, and I made a promise when I came here. I take personal responsibility for the failures and everyone else can get accolades for the success. That's the job of the administrator.''

Even with the Mars failures in 1999, Goldin said, the space agency is better off in every aspect than when he arrived. His brightest moment as NASA administrator was putting ``a contact lens'' on the Hubble Space Telescope in 1993 and restoring its vision, despite skeptics who didn't think the space agency could pull off the mission.

The worst moment, he said, was realizing the space agency would not be sending astronauts to Mars for a long, long time, ``and that has been the love of my life.''

``I feel highly frustrated and I feel my life won't be complete until America lands an astronaut on the surface of Mars,'' he said.

The NASA chief began his career working on electric propulsion systems for human interplanetary travel at the agency's Lewis Research Center in Cleveland in 1962. He went on to become vice president and general manager of the TRW Space and Technology Group in Redondo Beach, Calif.

Goldin said Wednesday he has accepted an interim position as a senior fellow for the Council on Competitiveness in Washington. He plans to eventually get back into private business - as long as he has weekends and holidays off to spend with his family.