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Marshall Chief to leave & Shuttles may not fly till 2004

Submitted by Arthur - N1ORC
Previous permission granted by Houston Chronicle


May 21, 2003, 10:50AM

Marshall Space Flight Center chief will leave post in January
Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau 

WASHINGTON -- The director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, which
is responsible for the foam-shedding external fuel tank that has come
under fire in the Columbia disaster investigation, announced Tuesday he
is stepping down. 
Arthur G. Stephenson, a former president of Houston's Oceaneering
Advanced Technologies who has directed the Huntsville, Ala., center
since 1998, said his departure is unrelated to Columbia or to any other
problems at the space center. 
He plans to retire from the space agency in January, and agreed to step
down from the director's post early so that NASA can hire his successor
in time to help with getting the nation's three remaining shuttles
flying again, likely some time next year. 
"The people at Marshall and Huntsville are my family, but after five
years, I felt it was time to consider new challenges," Stephenson said.
"I felt the timing for this move is in the best interest of the agency,
Marshall, and me, personally." 
Stephenson's boss at NASA headquarters, associate administrator of space
flight Bill Readdy, said Stephenson will be reassigned June 15 and will
help promote the agency's educational efforts until he retires. 
"I worked closely with Art in the office of space flight, and I'm
thankful for what he has done for the Marshall Space Flight Center, the
people of Alabama, and the entire NASA family," Readdy said. 
NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe praised Stephenson for bringing his
private sector management experience to the space agency and called him
a "staunch champion of education for our future explorers." 
Meanwhile, investigators probing the cause of Columbia's fatal breakup
over Texas on Feb. 1 said Tuesday that foam insulation that peeled away
from that tank and struck the shuttle's left wing during liftoff may
have damaged the spacecraft enough to allow hot gases inside as the
seven astronauts headed home. 
The Columbia Accident Investigation Board, at its weekly briefing in
Houston, also said that film from six previous shuttle flights showed
that foam broke off of the tank in the same place as it did during
Columbia's liftoff. NASA knew about only four incidents. 
Early on in the investigation, Stephenson and others at NASA said
engineers eventually became comfortable with the repeated problem of
foam falling off the tank during shuttle launches and didn't realize it
posed a safety threat. 
Marshall also was the space center responsible for the flawed solid
rocket booster that doomed space shuttle Challenger, which expoded on
liftoff in 1986, killing seven. After that accident, then-Marshall
director William Lucas retired. 
But NASA News Chief Robert "Doc" Mirelson said Stephenson's departure
had nothing to do with Columbia's demise. 
Stephenson worked for more than 35 years in the space industry before
joining NASA. When he was tapped for the Marshall job by then-NASA
Administrator Dan Goldin, he had been supervising Oceaneering's
contracts with the space agency and the departments of Defense and
The Houston company's products included hand tools for spacewalking
astronauts, spacecraft robotics and thermal protection systems for
commercial launch vehicles. 
U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Beaumont, whose district includes Houston's
Johnson Space Center, lamented Stephenson's departure, saying the space
agency is losing too many experienced employees who grew up during
NASA's glory days. 

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