WASHINGTON – Late on Christmas Eve, one last wish was sent, by e-mail: Please let NASA Administrator Michael Griffin keep his job. It was from his wife.
Rebecca Griffin, who works in marketing, sent her message with the subject line "Campaign for Mike" to friends and family. It asked them to sign an online petition to President-elect Barack Obama "to consider keeping Mike Griffin on as NASA Administrator."
She wrote, "Yes, once again I am embarrassing my husband by reaching out to our friends and 'imposing' on them.... And if this is inappropriate, I'm sorry."
The petition drive, which said the President George W. Bush appointee "has brought a sense of order and purpose to the U.S. space agency," was organized by Scott "Doc" Horowitz of Park City, Utah, an ex-astronaut and former NASA associate administrator.
A cash-strapped NASA last week also sent — by priority mail costing $6.75 a package — copies of a new NASA book called "Leadership in Space: Selected Speeches of NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, May 2005-October 2008."
And just before the presidential election, Griffin sent a letter to Obama saying, "I am deeply grateful to you, personally, for your leadership" on the vote to allow NASA to use Russian spaceships.
Efforts by those close to Griffin lobbying on his behalf are unusually bold, even for ego-heavy Washington. Past efforts on behalf of job hopefuls have been more behind-the-scenes so plausible deniability can be maintained.
"It sounds like the only thing left is to stencil Mike Griffin on the side of shuttle," joked Paul Light, a professor of public policy and a presidential transition expert at New York University. "I've never heard of a campaign to keep one's job that goes beyond the edge of private discussion. ... Maybe he should be texting next."
David Goldston, a former chief of staff for the House Science Committee and a lecturer on science policy at Harvard University, said, "This kind of public campaigning to keep a job is unusual and usually tends to backfire in new administrations."
Griffin's press secretary, David Mould, said that Griffin is not campaigning to keep his job and figures that Obama will name a new NASA chief. However, Griffin would be "honored" to be asked to stay on the job.
"A lot of people seem to like and support Mike and think he's doing a good job," Mould said. He said he couldn't speak for the administrator's wife and she did not answer an e-mail from The Associated Press.
As for Griffin's book of speeches, it was a natural for the NASA history office and coincides with the end of the presidential term, Mould said. NASA printed 2,500 books at a cost of $57,000 with the ability to produce more, NASA spokeswoman Sonja Alexander said.
NASA did not publish a book of collected speeches for Griffin's two predecessors, said spokeswoman Ashley Edwards. The agency did produce a compact disk of speeches by Dan Goldin, NASA's longest-serving boss, just before he left in 2001.
Griffin, a rocket scientist who holds seven degrees, has been on the job since 2005. His background is strikingly different from his predecessor Sean O'Keefe, a former budget office official. Griffin oversaw the successful return to space flight two years after the 2003 Columbia tragedy when seven astronauts were killed.
He's used his scientific smarts in making hands-on crucial decisions about shuttle flights, but he's ruffled feathers with some of his choices involving the design of next-generation spacecraft for a return to the moon. Some engineers both inside and outside of NASA question the whole concept of the new spacecraft, which Griffin calls "Apollo on steroids."
Petition-drive organizer Horowitz, who used to be in charge of NASA's return-to-the-moon program that is Griffin's signature project, said Griffin had nothing to do with the petition effort.
"This is other people campaigning for him," Horowitz said. "There's a lot of things people should change, but the NASA administrator isn't one of them."
Several hundred people have signed the online petition, including astronaut Mike Fincke who e-mailed his signature from the international space station. Some of the signatures are false names and some are anonymous. Horowitz said he has removed the names of people who added comments saying Griffin should NOT be kept on.
Horowitz's effort also spurred a "remove Mike Griffin" counter-petition, which has just a few dozen signatures, mostly anonymous and personal, including some nasty comments. A few criticized the new space vehicle design.
Only a few weeks ago, Griffin had a public disagreement with Obama's NASA transition chief, Lori Garver, a former NASA associate administrator, about the transition team's efforts to get more information. The dispute wasn't too heated and voices weren't raised, said Smithsonian scholar John Logsdon, who was holding a book signing for his latest volume on space history when Griffin and Garver had their spat.
That conversation led some in the tight-knit space community to speculate that Griffin figured he would not be kept on. Garver has not been available for comment, and Griffin's spokesmen say he is not available until after the new year.
Former NASA Deputy Administrator Hans Mark, who recommended Griffin to the Bush administration, said Griffin and his friends are handling this wrong.
"Mike ought to play it the way (retained Defense Secretary) Bob Gates is playing it, which is to shut up," Mark said.
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