IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Departing NASA boss voices no regrets

NASA’s departing boss, Sean O’Keefe, says he does not regret canceling the last shuttle mission to the Hubble Space Telescope — or anything else during his three years on the job.
NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe is seen on a TV monitor as well as at the podium in the background at the agency's headquarters in Washington, as he speaks at a press conference Friday.Gerald Herbert / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

NASA’s departing boss, Sean O’Keefe, said Friday that he does not regret canceling the last shuttle mission to the Hubble Space Telescope — or anything else during his three years on the job.

O’Keefe’s decision nearly a year ago prohibiting astronauts from repairing the Hubble, on post-Columbia safety grounds, was by far his most controversial and was challenged by a prestigious scientific panel just last week.

“The decision that I made I intend to stand by,” O’Keefe said at a news conference. He said a pair of design reviews for a potential robotic mission to prolong Hubble’s life, scheduled for March and August, “will tell us a lot more about this rather than guessing.”

The Government Accountability Office weighed in Friday, criticizing NASA’s attempt to put a price tag on one last shuttle mission to Hubble. It was especially embarrassing news for O’Keefe, a former government budget official.

No looking back
Unless astronauts or robots get to Hubble within a few years to install fresh batteries, gyroscopes and other equipment, its breathtaking observations of the cosmos will cease.

“I don’t know that there’s a whole lot that I would have done differently,” O’Keefe said. “I don’t spend any amount of time, I’ve got to tell you flat out, really thinking about woulda, coulda, shoulda’s and looking backward. Every minute you spend looking backward is time wasted from not looking forward.”

O’Keefe met with reporters and then formally addressed NASA employees for the first time since resigning Monday. On Thursday, he was selected as the new chancellor of Louisiana State University.

Cost estimates questioned
Just a few hours after O’Keefe’s remarks, the GAO issued a 26-page report questioning NASA’s estimated $1.7 billion to $2.4 billion cost for a shuttle mission to Hubble. The space agency prepared the numbers at the GAO’s request, but could not provide documented support for its estimate, the GAO noted.

“Definitive cost estimates to facilitate decisions regarding options for servicing the Hubble are critical,” the report stated.

The GAO found similar documentation problems with NASA’s estimated $2 billion-plus price tag for implementing the Columbia Accident Investigation Board’s recommendations for resuming space shuttle flights.

O’Keefe said it was appropriate for his yet-to-be-selected successor to preside over the space shuttle’s return to flight in late spring, since that is the first step in President Bush’s plan to send astronauts back to the moon and on to Mars.

Mixed emotions
In a speech televised at NASA centers nationwide, O’Keefe assured employees that his decision to leave NASA was with mixed emotions and based on family considerations. The father of three teenagers, the oldest of whom will go off to college next fall, will more than triple his $158,000 annual government salary at LSU.

He recalled the “wonderful high moments” of landing two rovers on Mars and helping to develop the president’s space exploration plan.

He also reflected on the heartbreak of last year’s Columbia accident and told employees that “if history is any guide,” there will be more triumph ahead — and probably tragedy, too.

O’Keefe plans to remain at NASA until February to allow time for the president to select a new space agency chief and for the Senate to confirm the nomination.