Search for Heliophysics Chief To Start Soon, Grunsfeld Says

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WASHINGTON — NASA says a formal hunt will begin soon for a permanent replacement for the Heliophysics Division director the U.S. space agency fired in June.

“We are very soon to go out and announce a search for a new heliophysics director,” John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator for science, told the NASA Advisory Council’s heliophysics subcommittee during a Sept. 23 meeting at NASA headquarters in Washington. NASA will be hiring a professional recruiting firm for the search, which “will probably be open for about two months.”

NASA’s Heliophysics Division — a roughly $600 million enterprise that designs and operates spacecraft to study the sun — has been managed by acting director Jeffrey Newmark since the June 6 firing of David Chenette.

Chenette, a veteran scientist who joined NASA in late 2013 after 26 years with Lockheed Martin Space Systems, was fired for what Grunsfeld called leadership and management failures. Chenette denied Grunsfeld’s accusations and called on the NASA inspector general to investigate the circumstances of his dismissal.

Grunsfeld told members of the 12-person NASA Advisory Council heliophysics subcommittee they are welcome to apply for the job themselves, or recommend colleagues for the position. He warned, however, that the bar is high.

“The challenge is that this is a position in the senior executive service, and there are some tough gates to be selected through the Office of Personnel Management,” Grunsfeld said. “It’s not the kind of thing that the usual scientist would have the credentials and background for, unless you’ve run a laboratory or led large groups of people with large dollar amounts.”