James C. Fletcher, who returned to the helm of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration during its darkest hours, announced his resignation Tuesday, effective April 8.
Fletcher, 69, who had served as NASA administrator from April of 1971 to May of 1977, reluctantly accepted the post in 1986 for a second time in the aftermath of the Challenger explosion, the nation’s worst space disaster.
The resignation came as no surprise in that Fletcher had made it clear that he wanted to retire as soon as President Bush named a replacement.
Sources at NASA said they thought Fletcher went ahead and announced his decision before the replacement was picked in hopes of accelerating the process. Many in NASA are extremely anxious over who will head the agency because the appointment could serve as an indication of how strongly the Bush Administration will push space exploration.
Selection of a strong leader who would be willing to do battle with Congress in these days of budgetary limitations would indicate that the Administration plans to aggressively pursue the many items on the agency’s agenda, including the construction of a permanently manned space station by the end of the next decade.
In a sense, Fletcher is seen as having been a strong administrator but an uninspiring leader in the three years of his current term as head of the embattled agency. He is credited with completing a major overhaul of NASA’s top management structure, getting the authorization and money to build a replacement for the Challenger and keeping the space station alive.
NASA’s deputy administrator, Dale Myers, will serve as acting administrator until Fletcher’s successor is picked.