Selecting a list of luminaries who stand out in an industry so heavily populated with brilliant, accomplished people is no easy task. Over the course of the past year there were dozens, if not hundreds, of people around the world who made a major impact on the space community.
The people highlighted in this special report are not necessarily the 10 most important or most accomplished. They are 10 people the editors of Space News judged to have made a unique, significant and in some cases lasting contribution to the development of space in the past year.
In compiling the list we tried to recognize people from all three major areas of space activity — civil, commercial and military. They are presented here in no particular order, with one notable exception: In four hectic, action-oriented months as NASA administrator, Mike Griffin has set in motion significant changes that are intended to shake the agency out of at least two decades of relative stagnation and set it on course to accomplish the lofty goals set in January 2004 by U.S. President George W. Bush.
The upheaval and change at NASA when Dan Goldin took over the administrator’s job in 1992 after the first President Bush fired Adm. Richard B. Truly happened at a snail’s pace by comparison. Griffin entered the job with a sense of urgency and determination that has not been seen around NASA in some time. Admired inside and outside the agency for his intellect, frankness and boldness, Griffin has set the bar high for himself and his agency.
While it is still far too early to tell whether he will succeed, Griffin’s impact already is unmistakable. And he is unquestionably making a difference.
Mike Griffin, NASA Administrator
Mike Griffin has been thinking about what he would do as NASA administrator for the better part of his career. Since starting his dream job four months ago he has wasted no time putting those ideas into motion.
Griffin’s impact on the world’s largest space agency has been swift and sweeping. He immediately put the U.S. space agency’s exploration planning for future missions to the Moon and Mars into high gear, set a firm 2010 deadline for retiring the space shuttle and minced no words in saying the United States must scale back its expectations of what can be accomplished by then on the international space station.
He also accelerated the timetable for development of the Crew Exploration Vehicle — targeting delivery of the shuttle replacement for 2011 instead of 2014 — and got the Pentagon to sign off on NASA’s plan to use major shuttle components as the basis of its future crew and cargo launch systems instead of the Air Force system that was designated the nation’s preferred launch system just last year when U.S. President George W. Bush approved a new space policy for the United States.
The U.S. Air Force, which is responsible for launching satellites for the U.S. military and intelligence communities, went along even though it had a huge stake in the decision. The Air Force has spent well over $1 billion developing new rockets under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (ELVS) program, and had been hoping NASA would use those same rockets for space station-bound and lunar launches in the hope that the increased production volume would lower costs. NASA’s decision to go with shuttle-derived vehicles means that help will not be forthcoming.
Griffin’s embrace of shuttle-derived systems — telegraphed in a Planetary Society-sponsored white paper he co-authored in 2004, well before he was nominated as NASA administrator — headed off what otherwise could have been a major showdown with the powerful aerospace states of Florida and Texas. Meanwhile, Griffin placated other potential sources of political opposition by promising to reconsider his predecessor’s decision to cancel a shuttle mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope and ordering stays of execution for a number of environmental and space science satellites that were to be turned off or canceled. Griffin has proved adept so far at working Capitol Hill, earning plaudits from both sides of the political aisle for his responsiveness and candor.
He even has managed to give a measure of hope to the entrepreneurial space community , pledging to put space station crew- and cargo-transport services out into the market for all comers. His special assistant, Chris Shank, told space entrepreneurs at a Las Vegas conference in July that NASA could not afford to complete the space station and get ready for a return to the Moon without the commercial space sector’s help. A long-delayed crew and cargo delivery solicitation is being prepared for release this autumn .
Griffin has wasted no time putting a new NASA management team in place. On Aug. 12, exactly 120 days into his NASA tenure and the first day under federal employment rules that he could reassign senior agency employees without their consent, Griffin replaced his science and space operations chiefs as well as several other senior managers.
But if our reasons for giving Griffin the top spot had to be reduced to a single word, it would be “credibility.” People tend to trust and believe Griffin, and not just because he has a tendency to speak his mind . His broad government and industry experience, not to mention his half-dozen advanced degrees, means he usually knows what he’s talking about, and when he doesn’t he is not afraid to say so.
Griffin was widely praised for postponing the Space Shuttle Discovery’s return-to-flight mission from May to July to address a nagging icing problem that could easily have been overlooked or brushed aside . He and his team were forthright with the public when an alarmingly large piece of insulating foam broke away from Discovery’s external tank two minutes into the launch, surprising the agency’s top officials and marring an otherwise highly successful return to flight.
PR News, a weekly publication for public relations professionals, gave NASA high marks for its handling of the ensuing media frenzy, and cited “the forthright presentation of information” from Griffin himself.
Griffin is careful say that he has only until the expiration of Bush’s second term to accomplish the goals he promised the president he would pursue. At the rate he is going it promises to be a hell of a ride.
Arthur K. Cebrowski, U. S. Navy Vice Admiral (ret.)
When the first Falcon 1 rocket launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., lifts off sometime later this year or early next year, it will be carrying a small satellite that could spearhead a sea of change in the way the U.S. military deploys and utilizes space services.
The satellite is TacSat-1, the brainchild of retired U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Arthur K. Cebrowski, the former director of the U.S. Defense Department’s Office of Force Transformation. TacSat-1 will carry a pair of tiny imaging cameras and other experiments, but it’s not so much the satellite’s payload that makes it important — it is the revolutionary concept of operations that it will demonstrate.
TacSat-1 will be tasked directly by military forces in the field, as opposed to operators thousands of kilometers away. Data from the satellite will be transmitted through existing networks directly to these same forces. It represents a welcome departure for the military, whose forces all too often are last in line when it comes to getting satellite-based information products.
TacSat-1, or Tactical Microsatellite Experiment-1, is the first in a series of planned TacSat satellites. All fall under the umbrella of activities collectively known as responsive space, the Pentagon term that refers to low-cost satellites and rockets that can be launched quickly in response to emerging tactical needs.
Congress, fed up with traditional military space programs that seem to have no end of delays and cost overruns, has bought into the responsive space concept, with both the House and Senate Armed Services committees proposing budget increases for such activities next year.
Responsive space has had other champions in the military, notably retired U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Simon “Pete” Worden, who deserves some of the credit for helping to build momentum behind the efforts. But Cebrowski, a visionary most commonly known as the father of network centric warfare, is the one who got the responsive space concept from viewgraphs to the launch pad.
Rep. Tom Delay, House Majority Leader
In the summer of 2004, President George W. Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration was in trouble. The House Appropriations Committee voted to cut $1.1 billion from NASA’s 2005 spending request, a move that would severely hamper the space agency’s effort to set off on a new exploration-driven agenda. NASA’s prospects weren’t much better in the Senate.
The White House responded with a rare threat to veto any bill that did not fully fund the president’s request for NASA, and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas ) took it upon himself to deliver the money the president was seeking.
DeLay found a willing ally in Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). Together the pair made fully funding NASA a priority and assured the job got done when an end-of-the-year omnibus spending bill went to conference. In the end, NASA received nearly every dollar it requested, putting it in a good position at the start of 2005 to begin the exploration initiative.
DeLay was ably supported along the way by his policy director Juliane Carter Sullivan.
DeLay remains one of NASA’s most powerful allies in Congress. Earlier this year, he drove a broad reorganization of the congressional appropriations subcommittees, at long last taking NASA out of competition for funding each year with programs for military veterans, federal housing programs, the Environmental Protection Agency and other independent federal agencies.
Peter Diamandis, Entrepreneur
If a successful year in the space business was a fine wine, then Peter Diamandis’ 2004 vintage was one of the all time greats.
Within the span of a few weeks last autumn, two of the intrepid space entrepreneur’s long-term labors of love came to fruition in glorious fashion. On Sept. 14, Zero Gravity Corp. finally took off with its first parabolic flight for paying customers, giving ordinary people the chance to experience brief periods of weightlessness aboard a specially outfitted 727 cargo plane for around $3,000. Now the company is even negotiating with NASA to provide the agency with a commercial service it usually does with its own airplane just a few times a year.
Two weeks after Zero Gravity made its commercial debut, the SpaceShipOne team made the first of two privately financed suborbital spaceflights needed to claim the Ansari X Prize by piloting a reusable launcher into suborbital space and back. On Oct. 4, the SpaceShipOne team did it again, claiming the $10 million cash prize Diamandis had set in motion nearly a decade earlier with little more than his own passionate vision and some seed money from the St. Louis city council.
SpaceShipOne’s prize-winning flight made headlines the world over and helped light the afterburners on the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act (H.R. 3752), a bill establishing regulations for suborbital launch firms that plan to carry paying passengers into space. The bill encountered turbulence along the way to final passage, but thanks to the passion of Rep. Dana Rohrabcher (R-Calif.), the navigation skills of House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) and a lot of late hours from staffers David Goldston and Tim Hughes in the House and Jean Toal Eisen in the Senate, H.R. 3752 made it to the president’s desk.
Diamandis has since formed an industry group to work with the Federal Aviation Administration in establishing the regulatory regime for commercial suborbital launch firms, including Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which plans to introduce service a few years from now with the help of Burt Rutan and Scaled Composites, the Mojave, Calif., aviation wizards who built SpaceShipOne.
None of those things would have happened had Diamandis not used the force of his personality and a tenacious determination to make sure the X Prize would do for space what the Orteig Prize did for aviation (it spurred Lindbergh to fly across the Atlantic). Many people had the vision, but it was one man who understood better than anyone else what it would take to make it a reality in his lifetime. When private citizens finally start traveling to space in the years ahead, they should thank Peter Diamandis first.
Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director-General, European Space Agency
Given the multitude of things that can go wrong in the realm of satellites, rockets and politics, most space agency heads have to deal with a major crisis sometime in their tenure. Jean-Jacques Dordain, director-general of the European Space Agency (ESA), has been juggling three: getting the upgraded version of Europe’s Ariane 5 launch vehicle healthy; keeping the political and industrial coalition for the Galileo satellite navigation system intact; and keeping the space station program from sinking the agency while NASA’s space shuttle program struggles to regain its footing.
He has handled all three with grace and skill and even managed to get one of them off his plate during the last year. The Ariane 5 ECA, an upgraded version of Europe’s commercial launcher that is vital to the future of the Arianespace launch consortium, was successfully launched Feb. 12.
The 2.5-year grounding of the U.S. shuttle fleet following the Columbia accident put enormous pressure on ESA, which continues to keep its team together for the long-delayed launch of Europe’s Columbus laboratory to the international space station. After NASA announced July 27 that the shuttles would again be grounded, Dordain initiated a study to determine what ESA should do if no shuttle is available to launch Columbus.
Dordain also has helped keep the Galileo program going while ESA, industry and the European Commission continue to negotiate how it should be funded, when industry should provide some of that money and how that money should be spent . It has been a tough juggling act , but Dordain has showed considerable political and technical skill in holding things together.
He also won a 10-percent budget increase for ESA in 2005, which is no small feat for someone who has to keep the representatives of 17 different governments happy.
Lori Garver, Washington Space Consultant
An unabashed Democrat and long-time space proponent, Lori Garver did as much as anyone in 2004 to promote bipartisan support of President George W. Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration. Garver, a former senior NASA official who became a Washington space consultant after Republicans captured the White House, was one of the outsiders told about the vision well ahead of the president’s speech.
After the speech, when news media were looking for someone to present the political opposition’s view on the president’s new plan, many turned to Garver, who had served the Clinton White House as NASA associate administrator for policy and plans. Garver said a guiding space exploration vision was precisely what NASA needed, helping set a generally receptive tone with Democrats on Capitol Hill.
Garver also was one of the early proponents of bringing a diffuse space advocacy and aerospace contractor community together under a single coalition to promote the exploration vision to Congress and the public.
Garver, along with George Washington University professor John Logsdon, advised Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign on space matters. She and Logsdon worked the inside — butting heads at time with no less a presence than famed astronaut and former U.S. Sen. John Glenn — to head off a knee-jerk reaction from the Kerry camp, which initially saw the vision as just another opportunity to brand Bush as out of touch during an election campaign dominated by Iraq and the economy, and helped craft a more nuanced policy position. In the end, candidate Kerry said he supported a reinvigorated space exploration agenda for NASA but criticized the Bush plan as big on goals and short on funding. A potentially partisan standoff was averted. Space promptly fell off the campaign’s radar.
Garver caught flack from bloggers in 2004 when she called the Bush plan “hot air” in urging space advocates not to write off the Kerry campaign. At the time, with Congress taking a meat cleaver to NASA’s budget request without a public word of complaint from the White House, many space advocates, not just Democrats, were wondering whether Bush had backed away from the space exploration vision he had announced in a landmark speech at NASA headquarters just six months before but had not mentioned since.
Bush later threatened to veto the budget bill if his proposed increase for NASA was not included.
Steve Nixon, Staff Member, House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee
Steve Nixon might not be a big favorite among the U.S. Air Force officials who went to Capitol Hill in recent years seeking hundreds of millions of dollars to develop new military satellite capabilities, but his influence has been undeniable.
As a staffer specializing in space issues with the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, Nixon almost always is mentioned by name when Pentagon or contracting officials tick off the hurdles a space program must clear to secure funding from Congress.
Nixon has steadfastly and successfully resisted Air Force efforts to dive head-first into multibillion-dollar projects like the Transformational Satellite (T-Sat) and Space Radar systems, arguing that the service needs to get its mature development programs under control before embarking on risky new ones. Although solid arguments can be made for T-Sat and Space Radar, Nixon points out no less convincingly that recent history is on his side: I f you look across the U.S. military’s portfolio of space programs, it is difficult to find one that hasn’t exceeded its schedule or budget.
Lawmakers increasingly have expressed frustration with the military’s space acquisition problems , and this is due in large part to Nixon’s success in getting them to pay attention to the issue. His fingerprints can be seen all over language in defense appropriations bills pointing out technical shortcomings in this or that space program or holes in Air Force arguments in its favor.
But if they don’t particularly look forward to meetings with Nixon, Air Force and contracting officials harbor a grudging respect for his depth of knowledge on the programs he oversees. They know better — or at least they should — than to try to bamboozle him with technical mumbo jumbo in hopes of winning his support.
Were it not for Nixon, programs like Space Radar might be going full-steam ahead, and for this reason some might see him as a spoiler, or anti-space. That would be misguided: Nixon is one of the driving forces behind the Air Force’s badly needed effort to reform its space acquisition system. He also is a strong proponent of trying new things in space, and enthusiastically backs Pentagon efforts to field new types of low-cost satellites and rockets that can be launched on short notice to meet emerging tactical contingencies.
Hugh Panero, President & CEO, XM Satellite Radio
While Sirius Satellite Radio’s new high-profile CEO Mel Karmazin was grabbing all the headlines this past year, Hugh Panero’s XM Satellite Radio was grabbing more market share.
Under Panero’s leadership XM has become the dominant player in the surging satellite radio market. According to its most recent quarterly financial report, which covered the period that ended June 30, XM had 4.42 million subscribers, more than twice the number it had a year earlier.
Over the same period, Sirius also grew, but by a more modest 59 percent, reaching 1.8 million subscribers by the end of June.
While Sirius has been signing big deals with the likes of popular radio personality Howard Stern and NASCAR, Panero has been more cautious. He did sign a deal with the National Football League, but for the most part kept XM more focused on the bottom line.
The company’s 2005 second quarter revenue was $125.4 million, compared to $52.9 million for the same period last year. And while it is still spending heavily on customer acquisition, XM’s loss in the 2005 second quarter was $127 million, just slightly more than the $113 million loss it recorded a year ago on less than half the revenues. That makes it a leader with its customers and investors.
The rivalry between XM and Sirius and their bosses likely will grow as fast as the businesses. With the NASCAR and Stern programming not available until 2006 and 2007, respectively, Sirius may yet make a run.
But for now, Panero’s on top and increasing his lead.
Bernard L. Schwartz, Chairman, Loral Space & Communications
Bernard L. Schwartz has a well-earned reputation for feats of business wizardry. He’s made untold millions for himself and thousands of investors over the course of his career, but he outdid himself in navigating his company from the brink of ruin to a position where it can once again be a healthy competitor in both satellite manufacturing and services.
Loral was written off for dead in the months leading up to its July 2003 filing for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. bankruptcy laws. The company was nearly done in by its huge investment in the multibillion-dollar Globalstar mobile satellite venture, the deep recession that hit Asia and the general downturn in the global telecommunications industry. In the two years prior to the bankruptcy filing, Space Systems/Loral, the company’s satellite manufacturing arm, did not win a single contract.
While Schwartz must shoulder much of the blame for the Globalstar debacle, he also deserves credit for masterfully steering the company through bankruptcy leaner, but largely intact and able to compete vigorously in its own markets.
He agreed to sell Loral’s Atlantic Ocean satellite fleet to Intelsat, a billion-dollar sale finalized in March 2004 that enabled Loral to pay off much of its crushing debt .
With aggressive pricing, Space Systems/Loral landed five new satellite orders in 2004 and four so far this year. The recent wins include two in the emerging market for regional mobile communications systems featuring geostationary satellites and ground-based repeater networks, and one with XM Satellite Radio, which previously had purchased all of its spacecraft from Boeing Satellite Systems. Loral Skynet’s satellite services business is a much smaller operation, focused on Asia and South America and eying expansion into Africa and the Middle East.
A bankruptcy judge approved Loral’s plan to emerge from Chapter 11 reorganization July 25 under new equity ownership led by MHR Fund Management LLC, whose equity stake in the company is greater than 20 percent. Left out in the cold are Loral’s previous equity shareholders, but that’s the way it goes in the world of bankruptcy reorganization.
Schwartz rode Loral to the bottom and he may yet drive it back to the top.
David Southwood, Director of Science, European Space Agency
An eminent space physicist in his own right, David Southwood leads the superb European Space Agency (ESA) science program, which continues to achieve stunning results despite constant money problems owing to a budget that has been flat for more than a decade.
This past year, ESA’s Huygens probe thrilled scientists and amateurs alike when it successfully landed on Saturn’s moon Titan. It collected a wealth of data during its descent through Titan’s atmosphere and continued to deliver images back to Earth hours longer than its designers had dared hope, adding a major achievement to the U.S.-led Cassini mission to Saturn. Earlier in his 35-year career, in fact, Southwood had overseen the building of Cassini’s magnetometer, which today is measuring the strength of the magnetic fields at Saturn and Titan.
As ESA’s director of science, Southwood has pushed hard to expand the agency’s role in planetary exploration and even proposed that Europe develop its own space nuclear power systems, a necessity for missions beyond Mars like Cassini, which carries several radioisotope thermoelectric generators supplied by NASA.
Southwood will be the first to say he inherited a great program and leads a great, though lean, directorate, which has a total of 200 people spread across Europe, including just eight in his office. He also has Europe’s confidence. The ESA science director is actually elected to his job by the agency’s governing council. They picked Southwood in 2001 and recently asked him to stay on for a second four-year term.
Since taking the job, Southwood has added the Venus Express program to a lineup of ambitious missions that he tries to keep balanced between astronomy and planetary science .
That lineup includes the Herschel and Planck space telescopes, work on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, the Bepi-Columbo mission to Mercury, and the Gaia, which will create a 3-D map of the Milky Way.