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Alan Stern has left the (NASA) building

174142main_alan_stern1 WASHINGTON -- NASA's top science official has decided to leave, the space agency announced today. Alan Stern gave no reason for his departure, but his resignation comes after only a year of service as Associate Administrator of the Science Mission Directorate.

During his short tenure, Stern was a passionate advocate for science missions. But that area of the agency always has been troubled by internal battles over funding -- including a recent flap as to whether to minimize the agency's highly successful Mars rover program.

Dr. Edward J. Weiler, director of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., will serve as interim associate administrator, according to a NASA release.

"Though we regret Alan's departure, we are pleased to welcome Dr. Ed Weiler back to NASA HQ once again to assume the mantle of SMD leadership. With his experienced guidance, science at NASA will continue to thrive," said NASA Administrator Michael Griffin.


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Well, now we can look forward to the BUSH MARS UNICYCLE. Who needs four wheels on a Mars explorer vehicle, when one'll do? We'll save 75 percent of the cost ! That's BUSH THINKING !!

I'm no fan of the Bush administration, either, but this is actually good news for space science. Stern was advocating cutting the bulk of the funding for three tremendously successful Mars missions that are doing excellent science because of the cost overruns on the Mars Science Laboratory. The MSL is a very cool project, but there's just one problem: It doesn't launch until next year and any number of things could happen to it between now and when it lands. If he had had his way, Odyssey, MRO and MER would've all basically been shut down, and if MSL were to miss its orbital insertion or crash, now suddenly we have squat on Mars except dead rovers and two comm relay satellites with nothing to do. The engineers and scientists who run the science operations for those three still have to eat, and if they are shut down now, they'll go to greener pastures and you'll have a heck of a time after two years getting the band back together, so to speak. Stern's a smart guy, but I don't think he was the right guy for that post.

And to put this in perspective: The entire NASA FY 2007 budget: 48 days of the Iraq war. The planetary science budget part of that: 3.5 days. I wished we could make Americans as excited bout space travel as we could getting them to blow up stuff. We'd probably have colonies harvesting resources in the asteroid belt by now if we could.

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