News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Marshall's good news bodes well for Valley

It was good news to hear NASA's new boss tell workers at Marshall Space Flight Center last week that they have a bright future as NASA's key space transportation center. But there's more to the job than feel-good pronouncements.

NASA administrator Michael Griffin is a space guy, not a political guy or a green eye shade budget guy, so people trust that his top priority is figuring out ways to keep this nation in the space exploration business. There also is much room for interpretation in his comments, which were similar to his comments at NASA's other field centers.

Marshall is one of the area's largest employers of both government workers and contractors that serve the field center. It is historically known as NASA's "main" or "lead" or "center of excellence" center for propulsion and transportation. Businesses such as Boeing's Decatur rocket plant hope to benefit from their proximity to Marshall's space transportation expertise and management.

But the Huntsville field center's identity changed as the space agency remade itself in the '80s and '90s to fit national budget and political priorities.

Marshall's capabilities for testing chemically-fueled rocket engines and even components for rocket engines were dismantled and shipped to other field centers. Other field centers held on to their work in more exotic propulsion concepts such as nuclear or electric propulsion and the development of manned spacecraft. Marshall also lost to other field centers its leading role in developing the successors to historic space observatories such as the Hubble Space Telescope, the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory.

Mr. Griffin also mentioned "tough choices," and long-time Marshall employees know that means downsizing, consolidation, reorganization, privatization and a host of other euphemisms that could leave the center with a job description but fewer jobs. Mr. Griffin's trip was all about getting acquainted with Marshall and making everyone feel comfortable about the new boss. However, everyone knows that what happens between trips is more important.

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