I am really pleased to hear that John Mather will be the head of the new NASA Office of the Chief Scientist. He was chosen by incoming NASA Associate Administrator of Science Alan Stern.
As Stern says,
John Mather is a scientist of legendary reputation, technical ability and space science mission experience. His office will provide independent scientific advice to me to guide decision making regarding all aspects of the NASA science program.
Yeah, no kidding. John was the Project Scientist for COBE, a satellite that pretty much nailed it that the Big Bang is right (deal with it, creationists). He's also the Senior Project Scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope, the observatory that will be NASA's next great thing (it doesn't replace Hubble, as many say, but will augment and carry on the work Hubble has done).
And wasn't there something else? What was it... let me think... oh yeah! He won the 2006 Nobel Prize for physics.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I know John somewhat tangentially. I worked on COBE briefly, and I've talked to him now and again about Big Bang stuff. He worked down the hall from me at Goddard Space Flight Center, and I remember one day getting this bright idea about neutrinos and the Big Bang. I stopped by his office to ask him about it, and he patiently explained to me that while my idea was clever and technically correct, it was useless in reality with no real practical applications. And yet I felt better after talking to him! That's how nice he is.
With Mary Cleave gone (hurray) and Alan Stern in (hurray!), and now John stepping up (w00t!), I'm hoping that the recent turn of events we've seen at NASA -- the gutting of science -- will finally stop, or at least be stemmed. I know these are difficult times, and difficult decisions must be made, but with this kind of firepower this high up in NASA's hierarchy I see some light on the horizon. The AA and Chief Scientist will probably wind up talking to Congress on occasion, so maybe they can beat some sense into our politicians, and get the money NASA needs to feed all its programs... and maybe wean the programs that need it, too.