WASHINGTON — The thing about throwing out names is that it encourages other people — smarter, better connected people — to follow suit, even if only privately.

And, boy, have they. Followed suit, I mean. 

Included below are some solid candidates for NASA deputy administrator I shouldn’t have overlooked and others I wouldn’t have thought of myself. No tongue in cheek here. All top-shelf candidates, two of which could easily replace Charlie Bolden as NASA administrator if he’s as sick of Washington as he sometimes lets on. 

Pam Melroy 
A much better pick than fellow astronaut Eileen Collins, who I’m told hasn’t shown much interest in wading into space policy matters more controversial than the promotion of STEM education. 

Melroy, the second woman to command a space shuttle mission, joined the U.S. Defense Advanced Projects Agency’s Tactical Technology Office in January as deputy director. So she’s still in Washington and hasn’t given up on public service. Background check should be a breeze.

While still at NASA, she flew three missions and was deeply involved in the agency’s internal post-Columbia accident investigation and recovery efforts before finishing her five-year duty tour in 2009 as branch chief for the Orion branch of the Astronaut Office. From there she did a two-year stint at Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems as deputy program manager for space exploration initiatives. 

Even better, Melroy spent the better part of the past two years at the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation as acting deputy associate administrator and director of field operations, working closely with the very companies NASA is counting on to transport astronauts to and from the U.S. space station.

Bottom line: Fantastic candidate. If Bolden decides to follow NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver out the door in September, the White House could do worse than give Melroy a serious look for the top job. 

Patti Grace Smith
A former longtime head of the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation and current member of the NASA Advisory Council, consultant Patti Grace Smith is another strong candidate for the job. She knows the territory inside and out, supported President Barack Obama during his 2008 campaign and 2012 reelection, earning a presidential appointment last year to the National Air and Space Museum’s advisory board. 

Bottom line: Another top tier candidate for replacing Garver or Bolden, should he chose to go.

Dave Radzanowski
Currently NASA’s chief of staff, so he knows the lay of the land and presumably has Bolden’s trust. Deputy administrator would be a good promotion for the former White House Office of Management and Budget science and space programs branch chief. The White House, however,  might want to use this very capable budget wonk to fill the vacancy that will be left by NASA Chief Financial Officer Beth Robinson when she takes the Department of Energy’s No. 3 job once her nomination clears the Senate.

Bottom line: A solid deputy administrator pick, although one who is not as accustomed as Garver to the public limelight.  

Ann Zulkosky
The former marine biologist is the top Democratic aide on the Senate Commerce, Transportation and Science Committee, where she served as Sen. Bill Nelson’s point person for the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, the piece of legislation that directed NASA to build the Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket and morph Orion into a primarily deep-space vehicle.  If Obama were to nominate her, she’d sail through the confirmation process since Senate Commerce would have jurisdiction. 

Bottom line: Her Senate credentials should make for an easy confirmation but she lacks Garver’s passion for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. 

Richard DalBello

I already mentioned this veteran Washington hand in a previous post, but his name bears repeating, especially when you stop and consider the second-term possibilities presented by candidates like Melroy and Smith.

Final Thought: If Bolden decides he’s ready to return to Houston, NASA would be in good hands with either Smith or Melroy at the top. DalBello, Radzanowski and Zulkosky would all make good deputies.  

Brian Berger is editor in chief of SpaceNews.com and the SpaceNews magazine. He joined SpaceNews.com in 1998, spending his first decade with the publication covering NASA. He was named senior staff writer in 2004, a position he held...