Space operations chief announces retirement

Veteran astronaut spearheaded Discovery shuttle mission.

The veteran astronaut who led the effort to return NASA's space shuttle to flight made official his plans to leave the agency, as Administrator Michael Griffin Friday announced several personnel changes.

William Readdy, associate administrator for space operations, said he will retire from government on Oct. 15 after 19 years with NASA as a research pilot, shuttle commander and senior manager.

"Following the Columbia tragedy, I committed to the crew's families and the agency to stay through [space shuttle mission] STS-114. With Discovery safety on deck…having safely completed its mission, it is time to take my leave," Readdy wrote in a letter to NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, dated Aug. 15.

Readdy was among numerous senior NASA civil servants who received notices of involuntary reassignment from the agency's 11th administrator in mid-June, two months after Griffin took office.

Another was science associate administrator Al Diaz, whom Griffin replaced Friday with former astronaut Mary Cleave, who has been serving as director of NASA's Earth-Sun System Division in the Science Mission Directorate. Griffin announced that Cleave's deputy will be Colleen Hartman, a NASA White House liaison and former manager of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's environmental remote sensing satellite program.

Readdy turned down Griffin's offer of a position managing flight test operations at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in California.

Federal regulations require 60-day notices for such transfers. Monday marks the start of a delayed notification period for Readdy, who was busy overseeing preparations for Discovery's July 26 launch.

The first shuttle flight since February 2003 concluded Tuesday at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Seven astronauts brought Discovery to ground after 14 days in Earth orbit.

During a mission NASA officials have labeled "wildly successful," the crew of five men and two women stocked and repaired the International Space Station and tested in-flight methods for inspecting and patching the shuttle's heat shield - a safety requirement set down by investigators of the Columbia disaster. Two astronauts took three spacewalks, including one to make an unrelated emergency repair to Discovery's heat shield.

The triumph was tainted, however, by a one-pound mass and a few smaller pieces of insulating foam that broke away from Discovery's external fuel tank and narrowly missed hitting the orbiter during liftoff.

The incident, captured through enhanced launch photography - another post-Columbia requirement - shocked experts at NASA and fuel tank contractor Lockheed Martin, who had spent two years trying to prevent just such a problem.

Until his departure from NASA, he will serve as a special adviser to his successor appointed Friday, former space station program chief William Gerstenmaier. "Space operations could not be in more capable hands," Readdy told Government Executive. "Bill Gerstenmaier is a superb engineer, an excellent manager, a highly respected leader and a close friend."

Griffin also announced the appointment of Brian Chase as assistant administrator for legislative affairs. Chase most recently was vice president of Washington operations for the Space Foundation.

In other personnel moves, Griffin added two senior advisers to his management team. Lisa Porter, most recently a senior scientist in the Advanced Technology Office of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, will advise the administrator on aeronautics. Michael Ralsky, who previously served as an associate director in the White House presidential personnel office, will work with Deputy Administrator Fred Gregory on day-to-day agency operations.

Both Gregory and Associate Administrator for Aeronautics Victor Lebacqz are scheduled to leave NASA in the near future.

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