Ten Minutes With Sean O’Keefe

By Keith Cowing
May 18, 2002
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At the end of a press opportunity with Sean O’Keefe and Education Mission Specialist Barbara Morgan questions not related to education were asked which O’Keefe was more than happy to answer.

O’Keefe was asked to comment on funds for NASA’s infrastructure – specifically at KSC. He said “we have to look at the infrastructure demands are across the agency. How do we reconcile today’s facility requirements and today’s technology?” As an example of how facilities requirements change over time he said “the facilities requirements for the production of semiconductors are much different than they are for carbon nanofibers. We do not have a grip on our facility demands. The VAB was designed perfectly to service Saturn V rockets. After some modification, it was able to meet Shuttle orbiter requirements. However, it was [originally] designed for something we don’t do any more.”

When asked about the issue of center closures O’Keefe seemed to imply that while no closures were in the offing he could not wholly rule them out either saying “this is not an agency that figures out how to support its infrastructure – rather, the infrastructure is here to support the agency’s objectives.”

O’Keefe was asked about the ongoing SRR (Strategic Resources Review) which was underway when O’Keefe came to the agency, O’Keefe said “we need to work our way through this. We need to make some decisions, close out items, and move on.”

When asked about implementation of FAIR (the Federal Activities Inventory
Reform Act
) which, according to OMB ” directs Federal agencies to issue each year an inventory of all commercial activities performed by Federal employees, e.g., those activities that are not inherently governmental.” O’Keefe said “unlike other agencies, NASA has had experience with competitive outsourcing. NASA has a clear understanding of how to do that. You look at the functions of what you need to do and how to obtain services or products in alternative ways. You need to put yourself constantly through the benchmarking process.” NASA’s input to FAIR requires that we constantly reassess how we do business.”

When asked to comment on the perception (among some) that O’Keefe has placed a heavy reliance on the selection of people with military backgrounds to fill senior positions – and whether this signals a change in the relationship between civilian and military space efforts, O’Keefe replied that people were chosen based upon “individual qualifications. He then cited two examples.

  • Theron Bradley, NASA’s new Chief Engineer has experience with the Naval reactor design and operations That is the only other culture that I have seen that is equally and passionately dedicated to safety as we are.”

  • Bryan O’Connor, NASA’s new Associate Administrator for Safety and Mission Assurance has a strong background in the military and as an astronaut. He left NASA to go to private industry. He is one stand up human being and is well thought of across the agency.”

  • SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.