Dan Goldin's Final Frontier?

NASA's new boss has to hone his political skills--pronto

Don't envy Daniel S. Goldin. Sure, President Bush plucked the 51-year-old TRW Inc. executive out of obscurity on Mar. 11 and nominated him as chief of NASA -- the highest-profile job in the aerospace business. But after Goldin's expected Senate confirmation, he will take on what is also one of the toughest jobs in Washington.

Goldin is stepping into the middle of a war for control of the space program, pitting NASA against the President's National Space Council, a Cabinet-level group chaired by Vice-President Dan Quayle. The battle last month cost Goldin's predecessor, former astronaut Richard H. Truly, his job. Now, Goldin also must defend Truly's $14.9 billion budget to congressional critics who plan to slash NASA's funding. "There is simply not enough money for NASA to carry out all of its ambitious programs," says Senator Albert Gore (D-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate space subcommittee.

Simultaneously, Goldin will have to deal with congressional demands that NASA take a hard look at used Soviet space equipment -- now available at a discount. "I'm studying it right now," Goldin says of the Soviet fire sale.

OLD HAND. There's no doubt Goldin has the technical background for his new job. A 30-year aerospace veteran, Goldin launched his career at NASA's Lewis Research Center in Cleveland. Then he moved to TRW, where he spent the past 25 years, rising to the post of general manager of the TRW Space & Technology Group in Redondo Beach, Calif. The unit has produced dozens of big civil and military space systems, including NASA's Advanced X-Ray Astrophysics Facility (AXAF), a $2 billion orbiting lab to be launched in 1999.

It's Goldin's political acumen that will be tested, though. Under Quayle's activist leadership, the National Space Council is injecting itself ever more deeply into internal NASA affairs. Currently, for instance, the NSC wants to set up a new cadre of procurement officials that in some instances would report directly to the Vice-President, bypassing the NASA administrator. Good thing Goldin is an avid bicyclist: He'll have to do plenty of fast pedaling on the road he's now traveling.

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