NASA administrator expected to step down

WASHINGTON – NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe will resign this week, a government official said Sunday, and a spokesman for Louisiana State University said O’Keefe is a leading candidate to become a chancellor there.

The committee looking for someone to fill the $500,000-a-year job running the campus in Baton Rouge, La., meets Thursday, and O’Keefe will make his case for the job, search committee chairman Joel Tohline said.

Florida Today reported Sunday that a White House team already is weighing five candidates and plans to announce O’Keefe’s departure and pick a new NASA administrator by Thursday. It quoted a source familiar with the selection process.

Leading the president’s list was said to be Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish, who directed the effort to develop a system to shield the country from a missile attack, the newspaper said. It said the others under consideration are former Rep. Robert Walker and former shuttle astronauts Ron Sega, Charles Bolden and Robert Crippen.

O’Keefe has led the space agency for almost three years, a tumultuous period marred by the loss of the shuttle Columbia and its seven astronauts as well as budget battles and debates over the future of American space travel.

The administrator plans to resign this week, said the government official, who refused to be quoted because the procedures for O’Keefe’s departure still are not certain.

“The White House still has to decide how it wants to announce his departure,” the official said.

Despite O’Keefe’s appointment with the search committee on Thursday, the official said his resignation is not linked with an offer from LSU.

Another government official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the news of O’Keefe’s impending departure came as a shock – including to those at NASA – even with all the longtime speculation that he might move up in the Bush administration.

But John Logsdon, director of George Washington University’s space policy institute and a member of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, said the sense in the Washington space community, at least, was that O’Keefe had been eager to leave NASA.

“The general thought was that he was hoping for a different job in the second administration, probably back in the national security field, kind of his natural home, and that hasn’t happened,” Logsdon said. “But he, Sean, has always said that he likes the academic life.”

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