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Science & Space

NASA chief announces plan to transform agency

By Michael Coren

A silhouette of the Space Shuttle Discovery as it orbits above the Earth.
A silhouette of the Space Shuttle Discovery as it orbits the Earth.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Space Exploration
Sean O'Keefe
- Spend $12 billion on new space exploration plan over next five years. $1bn will be new money, the rest reallocated from existing NASA programs.
- Retire shuttle program by 2010
- Develop new manned exploration vehicle
- Launch manned mission to moon between 2015 and 2020
- Build permanent lunar base as "stepping stone" for more ambitious missions
- Complete commitments to international space station by 2010
Source: White House

(CNN) -- NASA's vision to explore the moon and Mars moved forward Thursday with a restructuring effort to streamline the agency's bureaucracy and support an independent private space industry.

Sean O'Keefe, NASA's chief, announced the plan to remake NASA into a "sustainable and affordable" organization that was once-again renowned for its innovation, courage and entrepreneurial spirit.

"Transforming the way we do business [requires] very specific efforts," he said. "We have to develop an respond more rapidly to changing events."

One of the most immediate changes -- which goes into effect August 1 -- will divide NASA's strategic offices into "Mission Directorates" in four areas: aeronautic research, science, exploration systems and space operations.

It also established two new positions -- a chief safety and education officer -- to address those priorities, especially in the aftermath of space shuttle Columbia's destruction. The chief safety and mission assurance officer will report directly to the NASA administrator.

An independent commercial space sector -- which has failed to materialize under NASA patronage -- is also expected to play a major role in future space operations.

O'Keefe said NASA has to ensure "not just an invitation to collaborate, but a necessity to collaborate" with the private sector. Aerospace companies are expected to assume many non-manned space responsibilities as NASA turns its attention to the moon and Mars.

No specific timeline or budget figures were offered for the plan. However, O'Keefe used the example of the Apollo era -- when NASA underwent organizational changes every year -- as a model for today's transformation.

"This is a work in process," said O'Keefe. "Any transformation is evolutionary."

He said the agency had already begun aligning itself with goals laid out in Bush's Vision for Space Exploration this January.

That initiative directs NASA to retire the shuttle program by 2010, develop a new manned exploration vehicle, establish a lunar program with a manned base around 2020 and prepare for a manned-mission to Mars.

Other organizational changes announced include a simplified hierarchal structure consolidating many NASA offices under several chief officers. Details of the changes were released on NASA's Web site Thursday.

NASA's announcement came after the presidential panel examining the U.S. Space Exploration Policy released its report "A Journey to Inspire, Innovate, and Discover," on June 16. That commission held months of hearings to recommend sweeping changes in the agency.

It suggested handing over almost all routine non-manned space operations such as servicing missions and low Earth orbit launches to the private space industry. The panel said NASA should only be involved with human space flight and operations unable to be preformed by the private sector.

It also recommended making some NASA research centers into federally funded facilities run by universities or the private sector, such as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory managed by the California Institute of Technology.

O'Keefe said the agency was considering the panel's recommendations.

"The approach we've taken is to look at those recommendations and to see how and if they will be implemented," he said. "A lot of information must be gathered to make informed judgments."

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