O'Keefe leaving NASA in good shape, lawmaker says

O'Keefe leaving NASA in good shape, lawmaker says

NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe, who resigned from his post earlier this week, is leaving the space agency in better shape than he found it, a powerful lawmaker said.

'He has been an effective and forward-looking leader for NASA over the past three years,' said Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Science Committee. 'Thanks to O'Keefe's leadership the agency is better managed with an ambitious new vision and a solid budgetary footing.'

O'Keefe is stepping down after three years on the job. The space agency endured difficult times during his tenure, including the crash of the space shuttle Columbia in February 2003, which killed seven astronauts, and continuing financial-management problems.

The agency moved to address these problems, to varying degrees of success. NASA's Integrated Financial Management Program sought to develop an enterprise system to span 10 NASA centers and consolidate 120 subsystems. The system revealed that NASA had miscounted $2 billion worth of funds and lacked adequate financial controls.

The crash of Columbia prompted NASA to buy an SGI supercomputer dubbed Kalpana that's located at NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. Using the system, the space agency sought to model how loose insulation foam had damaged the shuttle, leading to the disaster [see GCN story].

NASA landed two exploration rovers on Mars in January. After uploading software updates to help the space vehicles land on the red planet, the explorers beamed back images from the Mars landscape, prompting a huge increase in traffic to the http://www.nasa.gov NASA Web site [see GCN story].

In January, President Bush outlined his Vision for Space Exploration, a plan that includes returning manned spacecraft to the moon and eventually visiting Mars. To support the effort, the space agency received a $16.2 billion appropriation from Congress and increased flexibility to spend it.

Despite the steps NASA made to solve its shortcomings, the agency still faces many challenges, observers said.

O'Keefe's successor 'is going to have some serious problems to address,' said Rep. Bart Gordon of Tennessee, the ranking Democrat on the Science Committee. 'These include returning the shuttle to flight safely, dealing with the financial and cost management issues that continue to plague the agency, and ensuring that adequate resources are provided to maintain a world-class workforce and infrastructure.'

O'Keefe, who reportedly is seeking a post as chancellor of Louisiana State University, is set to speak at a news conference tomorrow to discuss his departure and the status of the space agency. The 10 a.m. briefing can be seen on the Web at www.nasa.gov/ntv.

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