Former shuttle chief upbeat about management shuffle
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: February 26, 2008
N. Wayne Hale, a veteran ascent-entry flight director who helped steer NASA through its recovery from the 2003 Columbia disaster, says the agency's decision last week to replace him as shuttle program manager caught him by surprise. But in a telephone interview today, Hale embraced the change and said his replacement, deputy program manager and Mission Management Team Chairman John Shannon, is the right man for the job.
"The senior leadership of the agency felt like they needed someone with some technical credibility and at least a modicum of speaking and writing ability to help build partnerships with other agencies, corporations, academic groups and international groups in addition to what's already going forward," Hale said. "They looked around for somebody and I guess I fit the bill.
"And the other thing is, we have got the shuttle program running fairly well, I would say, and we have a really good team of folks that are in place and can take over and run it without missing a beat. So they thought the time was right and the need was there and asked me to do this new job. Frankly, it's still a little bit undefined what it is I'm going to be doing. I'm just moving offices right now. But we'll be having some discussions next week in Washington about exactly what they want me to do. But apparently, it will involve speaking and writing and telling people about why the space program is important."
In a statement released Friday, NASA said Hale, named shuttle program manager in September 2005, had been named deputy associate administrator for strategic partnerships at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. In that capacity, the statement said, Hale will provide "strategic leadership to foster cooperative partnerships that help achieve NASA goals, build alliances across the public and private sectors, and improve U.S. competitiveness and economic growth."
Hale joined NASA in 1978 and rose through the ranks of mission control to the coveted position of flight director, a position he held for 40 shuttle flights. While he went on to loftier management positions, Hale said today being a flight director will "remain my absolute favorite job that I've ever had and the only thing that I really ever aspired to. Everything after that has just come along of its own accord."
"So yeah, I leave (the shuttle program) with a little bit of sadness," he said. "But you know, being a flight director is really a young person's job. You reach a point in your life where taking the midnight shift, you may not be as sharp as the young people and you realize, OK, you ought to turn it over to some young person who can operate under the time pressure and the odd hours and all of that."
Shannon, a former flight director known for a close-to-the-vest, no-nonsense management style, takes over at a critical time as NASA attempts to finish construction of the international space station and fly a final 12 shuttle missions before retiring the fleet in 2010.
Shannon joined NASA in 1988 and became the youngest flight director in agency history in 1993. He served as deputy director of NASA's Columbia Task Force in the wake of the 2003 shuttle accident and was named deputy shuttle program manager in November 2005.
"John is outstanding," Hale said today. "And I think the shuttle program will be better off, frankly, with him at the helm than maybe with me. So I don't have any qualms at all. He is outstanding, he's got an outstanding team (and) they will do a great job, I'm sure."
An early adopter of post-Columbia calls for changes in NASA's management culture, Hale brought a willingness to entertain minority viewpoints and dissenting opinions to the program that some managers privately criticized as overly conservative..
But Hale said today he did not believe his reassignment was punishment for any real or perceived transgressions.
"I don't get that sense at all," he said. "As a matter of fact, I get quite the opposite sense that everyone up the chain is extraordinarily happy with the way we're doing things and they felt they had a real need for me in this particular new assignment.
"It's not that anybody was unhappy with what I was doing. Certainly, nobody has said anything. Quite the opposite. And in fact, if that were the case, then John Shannon wouldn't be a good pick because he is cut from the same cloth and he is very open to dissenting opinions and seeking out the right information and I think he will do very well."
In the end, Hale said, "I believe people tell me what they really think and all indications are they really need me to do this new job, And that's why they asked me to do it."