Comments on Sean O'Keefe's Departure

Comments on Sean O'Keefe's resignation? Send them to and we'll post them here. Lets us know if we can use your name as well. Comments already received are listed below:

Mr. O'Keefe was a person who, to me, gave his best to the position of Administrator, given to him by those who thought he had the right background for the job at that time. Mr. O'Keefe didn't go to Notre Dame to coach football, because they want someone who knows football. Who knows what NASA needs? Mr. Webb was a good administrator because for one thing, Werner von Braun and his world class employees were working for him. NASA needs some such hero now, it would make it easier on the new Administrator. Recently I've heard that you work with what you've got and you work to make it better. Exploration is the right way to go, soon our robots will find something that we in person will just have to go see and we need to get ready, it takes a long time. There are paradoxes, we need to be OneNASA minded and yet the Centers that get certain work need to have demonstrated that they are the best to do it. Mr. O'Keefe was very political, and after 10 years of a flat budget (reducing NASA's scope by a third) we now have a bit more to work with, and a direction to go. Mr. O'Keefe communicated with NASA's Unions and seemed to use them to help him manage with ideas and 2-way communication. If I were LSU I would feel comfortable with this hard-working guy coming, and I wouldn't expect to have to offer him a fortune to get him to change his plans and go elsewhere.

Wesley Darbro, President NASA Council of IFPTE Locals


Best of the season to you and yours. I don't normally comment twice in a thread, and the discussion was going so well in this thread, but after reading today's postings I'm moved to tears. Whether they're of sorrow or laughter I haven't decided yet.

The "NASA sicentist" who accused Sean of being a "beam-counter" was my primary motivator. Perhaps it's because of trying to type with one eye, or being in a hurry, but, whatever the reason, these poor people need spell-checking software. Maybe it's in next year's "wish list". Your assessment that the NASA Family will never be happy with anyone in the Administrator's position is correct. NASA reminds me in many ways of a great company I once worked for, Westinghouse.

Westinghouse, like NASA, once had a great collection of scientific and engineering acumen at its employ. These people produced a staggering array of technological wonders, many of which are still in everyday use. The company thrived for many years, until a new management style came along. With an engineer as CEO during the '80s, Westinghouse embraced the "business unit" concept, forcing divisions which once cooperated to keep talent within the corporation to look outside the company, in the effort to "reduce costs". The net result was a demoralized workforce, and massive layoffs as competitors were able to capture Westinghouse's customers while the company was busy embracing this new management paradigm. Today, Westinghouse is just a memory.

Today, NASA has in its employ what is arguably the most educated, best group of engineers and scientists which has ever been assembled. Like the Westinghouse of the past, it produces technological wonders every day, many of which have become taken for granted in everyday life. I hear phrases such as "One NASA", and yet people write and describe the various centers, or "business units", being forced to compete against one another, with the accompanying confusion and demoralization of the work force. Is history repeating itself here?

The "perfect" Administrator would have the political savvy and business acumen of a Lee Iacocca, with a Nobel Prize in physics, and be the "Dr. Phil" of industrial relations. I don't believe such a person exists, because that person would first have to earn the respect of everyone in NASA. And with all of the projects being undertaken simultaneously, someone will always feel as though their ox has been gored, and will complain. If I put all of the negatives I've read together, it would be difficult to name even one thing NASA does which Sean O'Keefe supports. If NASA is indeed a family, then perhaps the Family Court maxim applies here: if no one's happy, then it's a good decision. But that's no way to motivate people, especially highly intelligent people who could certainly earn more designing widgets. So who do we need?

Would the NASA family respect someone from the outside? Someone who is non-military? Not a "Beltway insider"? Someone who understands that NASA is doing things that no one else does, or has ever done before? Someone who can explain to lawyers (lawmakers) why it takes cubic dollars sometimes to advance the cause of human knowledge? Someone who knows that they have at their disposal the right people to get the right answers? Someone who can resist the impulse to micromanage just to look as if they're doing something? Someone who is able to delegate authority, and responsibility, and yet realizes that the buck stops on their desk? Someone who can manage to keep scientists from feeling like no one cares about their work, or project, when hard budget decisions must be made? Someone who is as comfortable walking around underneath a Shuttle discussing engineering issues as they are on Capitol Hill discussing which programs will be impacted every time Congress goes looking under chair cushions to find money? Someone who will fight to get a stable budgetary percentage to enable serious, stable, long-term planning?

Speaking from experience, I'd look for someone who understands that what NASA does is unique, and standard private-sector business practices can't be hammered over NASA in an effort to make what they do comprehendible to Congress. Someone who is a good communicator as to how and why things happen.

This is a pretty tall order.

Dave Hromanik

Many people speak of O'Keefe in almost reverential terms. Much of that is because he is being compared to Dan Goldin. I have to agree that O'Keefe is a better man and administrator than his predecessor. However, I think the comparison has resulted in what amounts to a free ride for O'Keefe. I believe as do many others that O'Keefe has more failures than successes as an administrator. I have seen enough written about his successes. Some such as budget increases have much more to do with election year politics than O'Keefe himself. Others such as improvements in accounting seem largely illusionary.

I want to highlight O'Keefe's major failures because they will haunt NASA for years to come.

1. Stating that NASA would follow the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) recommendations to the letter before they were even announced was good politics and an utterly irresponsible act. O'Keefe allowed the CAIB to decide things that only a NASA administrator should. I think John Young's recent statements and retirement were driven by O'Keefe's declaration that NASA would obey CAIB to the letter. Young and O'Keefe know that the CAIB recommendations cannot be implemented to the letter. There is no way to guarantee launch debris will never again damage tiles. There is no way to repair large holes in the thermal protection on orbit. You can reduce these risks in limited ways but they will not go away. O'Keefe's successor will get to inherit this issue. It will be interesting whether NASA admits the safety limitations and accepts the risk, shuts down the shuttle program, or flies while pretending the risk is not there. My betting is on the latter. That is the way NASA is currently heading. John Young and O'Keefe both know it. Young is honest enough to say so and fall on his sword.

2. The decisions to cancel the Hubble shuttle repair mission and instead use a robotic mission were ridiculous. Even if O'Keefe is not a technical person, he certainly has an endless stream of technical people telling him that there is not a significantly greater risk in a shuttle flight to Hubble than a shuttle mission to ISS. The real reason for the decision is the Hubble repair will require an additional shuttle flight that O'Keefe did not want. O'Keefe wants to shut the shuttle program down as soon as possible. (I cannot say that I blame him.) An additional flight would keep the shuttle program in business another 3 months which equates to about a billion dollars. Furthermore, performing one more shuttle repair mission to Hubble would open the door to yet another Hubble repair mission that was scheduled before the Columbia mishap. The cost of the shuttle flights and maintaining the expensive Hubble Space Telescope Institute were undoubtedly on O'Keefe's mind when he first canceled the shuttle repair mission(s). Reacting to the resultant public outcry by replacing the shuttle repair mission with an unlikely robotic mission was another act of good politics but managerial irresponsibility by O'Keefe. I do not think O'Keefe had any idea how much the robotic repair mission would cost or how dubious the prospects of such a mission were, but the robotic mission kept the political heat off of O'Keefe - at least until recently. It is estimated taxpayers would get a bill of around $2 billion for this iffy robotic repair mission. Wonder what the next administrator will do with this mess?

3. The new human lunar exploration program is absurd. I have seen plans for permanent human presence on the moon that require about a million pounds a year launched to low earth orbit to support permanent human presence on the moon. This is the equivalent of a complete ISS sized space station every year. How is NASA supposed to find the money for such grandiose ideas? Why are we doing this anyway? The Apollo rocks were so definitive (and some say scientifically boring) that we have not even bothered sending anything, even unmanned rovers, to the lunar surface since Apollo. The exploration plans obsess over utilizing water ice in the moon's polar craters even though the consensus of the scientific community is that there is no easily extracted ice to be found there and very likely no ice at all. I don't blame O'Keefe for instigating this program. The human lunar exploration program is not the type of thing that a cautious and practical man like O'Keefe would suggest. The exploration initiative was most likely instigated by Texas politicians, Karl Rove and some White House aides. However, O'Keefe has done absolutely nothing to get the expectations under control and bring them to reasonable levels. Budget-wise, it is debatable whether any human lunar program can be performed with the allocations that are currently planned. (My betting is that it is it can't happen without accepting much more risk to human life than the Apollo program ever did since the new program will have far less funding than Apollo when adjusted for inflation and contrary to popular belief aerospace items have not gotten a lot cheaper since.) Best wishes to the next administrator on handling this program. My bet is that the Bush administration will expect next NASA administrator to say every thing is going great until things really hit the fan. This figures to be around 2010 when the serious money is needed to start paying for the hardware. Conveniently, this is after George Bush leaves office. We can expect the next NASA administrator to leave with him. I would imagine that administrator will get a nice golden parachute just like O'Keefe.

4. ISS science is pretty much being scrapped under O'Keefe to free funds for the human lunar initiative. Yet NASA is committed to ISS construction and maintenance. Why should the taxpayer continue to fund the ISS when the US does not intend to use it? What is the thought process behind this? In addition, the unmanned science programs are now supposed to support the manned lunar initiative. A word of warning to anyone working in a NASA science program, manned spaceflight (JSC) is after your budget and O'Keefe has opened the door wide for such budget raids.

5. O'Keefe was supposed to be a management expert. I see no evidence of it based on his major management initiatives. He has correctly judged that one big problem is that NASA field centers often behave selfishly. His solution is to cut the field centers out of the decision making and management processes as much as possible. The cure is worse than the disease. This management has idled a large fraction of NASA's workforce. Worse, NASA Headquarters has neither the technical expertise nor the manpower numbers to take over the functions it is now trying to perform. I just read the worst requirements document I have ever seen. Guess what? It was written at NASA Headquarters. In the end, NASA Headquarters will end up hiring contractors to do the work that field center employees could have done. (If you think field centers behave selfishly just watch contractors.) In the meantime, the taxpayer is still paying for the idle field center employees. How much longer that goes on will be interesting.

6. O'Keefe brought in Department of Defense retirees to many managerial positions. Presumably, they have better ideas for how to manage NASA. DoD works far differently than NASA and there is a good reason for this. DoD fields large numbers of tanks, planes, ships, guns, etc. It can afford to loosely manage the development of a system. Defense contractors are heavily motivated to deliver a good prototype for if DoD likes the prototype, the military will buy scores, hundreds, even thousands. Hence DoD is largely an evaluator of products and less of a developer. NASA on the other hand never gets to mass production of its hardware. NASA produces things in ones and twos, one Magellan, two Vikings, etc. Usually NASA contractors build one or two units and for better or worse that is it. If NASA wants a good product it must watch the development like a hawk because NASA does not have enough budget to pay for additional units when the initial unit is not up to the task. Admiral Steidle is trying to use DoD philosophy in the development of the Crew Exploration Vehicle, i.e. contractors build NASA a prototype CEV and if NASA likes it the winning contractor could be selling CEV's to NASA for years. Good luck with this strategy. It is hard to imagine that aerospace contractors will be too terribly excited about the possibility of selling to NASA what is unlikely to be more than one CEV per year. Note that Boeing has already announced that it would not even submit a bid for the CEV prototype competition. I certainly would not expect any contractor to use significant company funds on a CEV prototype. Still, the contractors figure to spend some company funds so that they can declare that their CEV design is a proprietary creation regardless of how much money NASA contributes. And what will NASA do if it commits to a CEV supplier that inevitably decides to yank the price way up after NASA commits to a contractor's proprietary design? No alternatives will be available. The nation has a choice of shipyards, fighter jets, and gun manufacturers, but I cannot foresee anyone maintaining a CEV manufacturing capability just in case NASA has a falling out with their first choice CEV contractor. Just how can DoD philosophy work for NASA when NASA does not require mass production of virtually anything? Remember that most systems that NASA develops do not resemble existing commercially produced products. Those who think we can just buy a lunar mission from a contractor are in for a rude awakening. Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe Steidle and O'Keefe could put an ad on eBay for a human lunar mission and see what kind of response they get. Just don't ask me to be the test pilot.

7. GAO is still all over NASA criticizing its financial bookkeeping. O'Keefe was supposed to be an accounting wiz but apparently accomplished little in this arena. O'Keefe did implement something called full cost accounting but there is a lot less to this than it sounds. O'Keefe had most "overhead" accounts including employee salaries eliminated and the funding redistributed. This forced projects to spend money directly on things that were previously charged to the eliminated overhead accounts. NASA management and budget officials were essentially told by the comptroller, "The following charge codes are eliminated Deal with it." That was the implementation of full cost accounting. O'Keefe apparently never took the step of analyzing, debating, discussing, and determining which items are appropriate for individual projects to fund and which are appropriate for the overall NASA program to fund. Without such a careful determination, full cost accounting is just a capricious management edict that results in disruptive changes without useful results. Currently, I have trouble finding paper to write on, NASA is having civil service buyouts to get rid of idle workers, and project managers are laying off support contractors for lack of funds. Full cost accounting is resulting in far less oversight of NASA projects and contracts. But the good news is that the "Cheaper" in "Faster, Better, Cheaper" is back. Hooray!

In summary, Dan Goldin steered the NASA ship towards the rocks by adapting poor and unrealistic goals while running off or ignoring NASA's best technical staff. Though O'Keefe may have tacked back and forth, NASA still seems to be heading toward the rocks for the very same reasons. This all happened with the blessing of Congress and the White House. Thus, I would expect the next NASA administrator to emulate O'Keefe and follow his course, improving nothing as the good ship NASA continues toward the rocks.

This is from

I am neither happy nor sad about Sean's departure. I am surprised, because if I were the President, I would want a steady hand at the helm of the Agency until after the first Shuttle launch. Sean's stated rationale for departing (I can't afford to send my kids to college) doesn't ring true, even if it is. And if Sean can't afford to put his kids through college on $158K/year, who in NASA can?

Some of our impressions of Sean are probably shaped by our experience with his predecessor. We like to compare Sean to Dan, and I think there is too much focus on their very different personalities and less on their macro effects on the Agency, which are hard to objectively assess until some time has passed.

Sean came to the Agency with a fairly simple mission, and in my opinion had some pretty good top level concepts of what to do to achieve it. However, he was only marginally more effective than Goldin in implementing many of these concepts for several reasons.

He never understood (or never knew how to deal with) the post-Goldin NASA culture where repressed introverts don't discuss their real issues and concerns, even after the CAIB painted him a pretty clear picture of this problem. He surrounded himself with a lot of "Special Assistants" in Code A, who also didn't understand the Agency and how it worked/works, and Sean relied on these "Special Assistants" too much for his distorted perspective of Agency reality. Finally, I think that Sean has fallen into the trap of trying to change too many things at once, diluting the effectiveness of all change efforts. Senior leadership's failure to prioritize has a powerful and negative effect on the workforce that is too often not recognized by NASA leaders.

A senior manager who worked directly for Sean once told me that Sean was "glib." At first I thought this was a harsh assessment, but after a couple of years of observation, I have to agree that Sean appears glib -- whether he is or not I don't know, but the fact that he appears glib to me is interesting. Certainly it seems true that what Sean thinks is most important is not widely shared by most NASA career employees, and I don't think that Sean has been very effective in communicating with employees across this gap.

One of my biggest disappointments with Sean is that I have not seen him attempt to constructively and thoughtfully frame a debate/discussion about the future of government-funded civil aerospace R&D -- what should its scope be, how it should be accomplished, etc. We appear to lurch from crisis to crisis, making at-the-moment incremental decisions which by themselves appear reasonable, but when added up over a year to two leads to a confused mess (despite all of our nice strategic plan documents).

My last comment about Sean is that it is not clear to me at this point what to hold him accountable for, what to hold the Administration accountable for, and what is the state of our government and the way it works as we approach 2005.

We need a leader who really believes in the Agency's mission (the whole Agency mission as defined in the Space Act, not just the Exploration Vision) and has a full and complete set of leadership skills -- to require that the person is an engineer or scientist is both irrelevant and overly constraining. Very few of the names being floated on NASA Watch seem to meet the above requirements.

Keith -

You mentioned in one of your commentaries that you wonder if NASA employees will ever be satisfied with who is at the helm of NASA.

I am a longtime NASA employee (with some DoD and private sector experience as well), and my "wish list"of characteristicsfor someone who would make me happy is very short:

1. Someone with integrity. By that I mean, someone who won't say "One NASA" and then raise inter-center competition toa whole new level. Someone who won't say that SAP is functional before the switch is turned on. Someone who won't answer employee questions with wonderful sounding words that don't answer the question. Someone who won't ask NASA employees at the centers to make recommendations about needed changes, and then offer as one of the "top three" recommendations something that none of the Centers submitted.

2. Someone who really cares about the long term future of the Agency. By that I mean someone with positive civil aeronautics and/or space experience, who is not using NASA as a career stepping stone.Someone whose reputation coming in from elsewhere was not primarily as a "heartless budget cutter" (quote from a DoDmanager about O'Keefe that was printed in the newspaper upon his appointment). And also someone who understands that "Better, Faster, Cheaper" is a recipe for failure over the long haul.

3. Someone who hasgood political and people skills. By that I mean no Dan Goldin clones, but also someone who will not revel as O'Keefe did in getting a threatening letter fromhigh ranking members of congress on both sides of theaisle.

You are of course rightthat no NASA Administrator (and no NASA vision) will make everyone happy. But in my experience, a good leader who is straight withtheir people, clearly communicatesa vision, and cares about the organization will have most of the folks lining up enthusiastically behind them. Neither Goldin nor O'Keefe has been that leader. But I have been privileged in both my DoD and NASA careers to have worked for leaders like this, so I know they're out there.

Perhaps the new year will find us with just such an Administrator.

Hi Keith,

The comments regarding O'Keefe and Goldin are interesting. It's good to see all of the opinions. It means people care and want to see improvement and I think everyone agrees there is a lot of room for improvement. My comments don't address the people that have served in the position of NASA Administrator but rather how they get there.

I believe the NASA Administrator should still report to the president but be "hired" by a bi-partisan congressional committee that oversees NASA operations instead of being appointed by the president. The job should have a clearly defined and documented minimum qualification statement. Candidates from government, industry, and academia should be encouraged to apply for the job if they meet the educational, experience, training, and skill requirements. This process would be very similar to the Board of Directors of a major corporation seeking out and hiring a CEO. In addition, the administrator's performance should be continually evaluated against clearly defined goals and expectations that are defined within a "national space policy" that includes government and commercial interests.

This approach would establish a legislative and administrative partnership and a framework for planning and implementing a consistent "national space policy" that supports the long-term ambitions and needs of the country and transcends presidential administrations.

Raymond Anderson
Sr. Project Manager
Kennedy Space Center, Florida 32899

We need another Webb:

James E. Webb, NASA Administrator, February 14, 1961 -October 7, 1968

For seven years after President Kennedy's May 25, 1961, lunar landing announcement, through October 1968, James Webb politicked, coaxed, cajoled, and maneuvered for NASA in Washington. As a longtime Washington insider he was a master at bureaucratic politics. In the end, through a variety of methods Administrator Webb built a seamless web of political liaisons that brought continued support for and resources to accomplish the Apollo Moon landing on the schedule President Kennedy had announced.


Here is a more reasoned response. As usual, I'm just

After seriously contemplating the O'Keefe era, here's my summary: Mr. O'Keefe returned civility to NASA.

I guess it's a classic "damning with faint praise" comment. That's true, but the praise is probably more significant that it first appears. I had limited (but dramatic) interaction with his predecessor, Mr. Goldin. Goldin was mean, uncivilized, intolerant, unpredictable, arrogant, and aggressive. Goldin drove off nearly every talented "direct report" manager at NASA, and intimidated or ignored the few that didn't leave.

I remember the first six months of O'Keefe's service. People prepared for their first meeting like a battered spouse preparing a meal -- tentative, anxious, fearful at one extreme, resigned to their fate at the other. They invariably returned from the O'Keefe encounter smiling, and reported that the new guy was no Goldin.

From my lower middle management perspective, the leadership team was gradually being upgraded when Columbia occurred. O'Keefe kept a steady hand on the helm and managed the emotional turmoil very well.

Unfortunately, after Columbia, NASA needed someone else. Mr. O'Keefe was clearly not up to the task of managing the technical and risk-based decisions ahead. His answers to questions dripped with political correctness and qualifications. As our spokesperson, he reasoned on the national stage that we could no longer fly humans to upgrade Hubble because it was too risky, but building station without science was OK. When the wonderful people at JPL successfully landed on Mars, O'Keefe announced that "we're back" as if we had changed anything. I was in a conference room when we heard that. Not a single person was comfortable with the words, and many cringed.

On the personnel front, Mr. O'Keefe empowered the NASA Comptroller to make unilateral decisions and changes in programs and projects through funding processes. He stacked his post-Columbia team with retired generals and admirals. Few business processes from the military-indutrial complex seem to apply to NASA. He negotiated the vision for exploration in secret, ignoring the people responsible for the missions and the money. Military and political influence was taken to new levels -- classified programs and campaign-timed buy-in budget numbers were produced and handed to the leadership team without debate or discussion.

Worst, and finally, since the President's visit to Headquarters, Mr. O'Keefe changed his famous long-winded-non-answers and political correctness to deception. He told NASA employees that budgets were going up and that there was plenty of work to go around, then he (apparently) told retired Admiral Steidle and Comptroller Steve Isakowitz to cancel programs and cut funding to the Centers. He told congress that no waiver from the Iran Nonproliferation Act was sought, and then (apparently) baselined Russian launch services for the foreseeable future. He told CAIB that every recommendation would be followed without debate, then (apparently) approved plans to fly the best we have within the budget and time available.

So thanks for being a nice guy, Mr. O'Keefe. But I honestly hope you take a few of your cronies with you to LSU. We have a lot of mutually exclusive commitments to unravel in your absence.<

Please withhold my name.

As a scientist I am celebrating the departure of Mr. O'Keefe. He is beam-counter with little understanding of science and engineering. Forcing the simultaneous implementation of IFM and full cost accounting affected many science programs (when combined, these management philosophies and tools produce contradicting results). I understand the need for fiscal responsibility, but this should be achieved by looking into those programs that are over expending and under performing (i.e ISS). An R&D agency should not be managed with fix-all accounting schemes. The agency should tailor its accounting and procurement methods to the needs of engineering and research. This is not a new concept, just look at Academia. What we have now is a case of the tail waging the dog.

I understand that O'Keefe had to deal with a difficult situation- Inherited a broken agency, the Columbia accident, the ISS. However, he was too eager to embrace this 'New Vision' that has been lambasted by most scientist (Stephen Hawking called it 'stupid'). I don't think he even tried to resist it because he just does not know enough to grasp what is required to go to Mars. So, I hope the new administrator is a scientist or engineer who also understands management and governance. We have many of those in this country. Unfortunately, we are likely to get another well-connected 'yes-sir' man. I only hope is someone who is at least qualified to teach science in high school.

A NASA Sicentist

Sean O'Keefe has been an honorable and level-headed manager of this agency. Traits which Dan Goldin lacked.

Now on the subject of anonymity: It's not about management. Most of us want to avoid the attention of our peers and the press.


Dear Keith,

You can freely use my name, which is in no way the name of anyone qualified to comment.

It seemed to me that Mr O'Keefe, to some extent like Mr Goldin, was a reformer by instinct. What they grasped was that NASA is a large, complex, innately conservative public service, full of well-intentioned, gifted people who accept its defects as the cost of doing business. It will change only when great pressure is applied, even though most of the people working in it might secretly agree on change. But who can apply that pressure? It is the one public service which is not really accountable to anybody. Schools are under pressure to perform well from parents, hospitals from patients, and so on: but the public which NASA serves is not so much the present generation as future ones. So, for instance, the state of spaceflight in 2005 is what the NASA engineers of 1975 were building: and we can hardly go back to them now and tell them to do a better job.

So if you are the Administrator of NASA, and you want things to be better in 2035, you cannot hope for pressure from outside - only from above. O'Keefe's "One NASA" ethos, for instance, and Goldin's (admittedly amusing) logo change are tactics in the same basic plan: get the organisation to accept the idea that it should be of one mind, and then change that mind. To lead NASA is a little like running for public office, with your workforce as a sceptical electorate. Thus, Goldin had actively to campaign for "Faster, Better, Cheaper". When people turn up their noses at this kind of sloganeering, and say how great it would be to have an engineer as Administrator, I think they fail to appreciate the problem. It's not about making rocket engines work; it's about making a complex social structure of 10,000 people work.

With my scientist's hat on, I think Mr O'Keefe was quite wrong to cancel the Hubble repair mission. ISS has frankly negligible science benefits, whereas Hubble is one of the more important laboratories in the history of mankind. It is worth the potential cost of human lives (of volunteers) in the same way that we put builders at risk to construct telescopes on Peruvian mountains. (Science will not even notice ISS: I am very glad that, unlike Mr Goldin, Mr O'Keefe is not obliged to pretend otherwise. The point of ISS is to sustain human spaceflight and get better at it.)

But there is another side to this. By cancelling the Hubble mission, Mr O'Keefe was sending a powerful message to NASA: he was saying that safety, and accuracy of engineering, were so important that any lapses and failures meant that major sacrifices would need to result. So I do not think the Hubble decision as clear-cut as some of the contributors to this forum. O'Keefe voluntarily accepted personal responsibility for taking this decision: I do not envy him it.

Was O'Keefe a good Administrator, rather than just a lucky one, in having arrived at a favourable moment in the political cycle? I think he probably was. But we shall not know until we see how much NASA has really embraced the new "Vision": whether it is really gearing up for a new mission, or (as I suspect) having fun with PowerPoint slides without really believing that anything will ever happen.

Dr Graham Nelson
Lecturer in Pure Mathematics, St Anne's College, Oxford

While I don't always agree with your position your comment today about the cartoon in Florida Today was right on! I didn't always agree with O'Keefe either, but he has integrity and you always knew where he wanted to take the agency and that alone was worth much. With his predecessor it was always the "bring me a rock" philosophy. While this may sound shallow, keep up the good work!

Jim Huning

I have to admit, it's a little upsetting to see how many people are completely jaded with the space program, but at the same time, I accept thatmany don't have the sameperspective on things that I do as a young NASA civil service employee. I have just recently graduated school a couple of months ago, but I have been a co-op and therefore working for NASA for about 2.5 years. First off, I do understand why many people as I do want to remain anonymous as the last thing anyone needs in their government career is to have their words published and referred to as an "official statement from a NASA employee". Remaining anonymous is an extra step in preventing this from happening and therefore protecting the employee -- and it really isn't a big deal -- getting wrapped up in petty things like this is part of what kills the space program -- inner bickering and politic-ing -- here's an idea -- if you really believe in exploration and the space program -- try to overlook the little things and remember what you are really supporting.

Now on to business -- from my personal experiences, I have seen in the past few years an influx of bright, fresh minds that are willing and attempting to do things differently then they have always been done. The opportunities are endless for those that want to take them, and if they don't exist -- there is a lot of room to create them yourself. In 2.5 years I am succeeding in high visibility return to flight projects, I've gotten the attention of the center director, had a chance to discuss one-on-one the agency's objectives with agency leaders, and become fully integrated into my center where I have a good idea of the major efforts taking place. A good part of this is a direct result of the changing culture at NASA and the legacy that O'Keefe has left us.

O'Keefe and the agency leaders of NASA have worked extremely hard since the day after the president's vision was announced to build a clearly defined architecture and processes that take the vision and break it all the way down to specific projects (research, development, design, etc.) flowing through each organization that is involved. The result has been hundreds of contracts that are already awarded where each one is attached to a center, an industry partner, and many with academia -- all directly supporting the vision for exploration. Admiral Steidle is a very dedicated and disciplined individual and I cannot imagine any other person more skilled for the job. The exploration vehicle decisions are being made hand-in-hand with industry partners to ensure the best decisions are made as well.

O'Keefe and the current agency leaders have implemented a core financial system that is helping to track ALL NASA finances and add credibility to NASA's financial department. They have heavily investigated the shuttle and all of NASA to see where an extremely qualified independent (CAIB) groups' recommendations for improvement could be implemented and then have gone and implemented them. They have aligned congress and the white house (some how) and have given us a new direction as an agency while involving industry and academy every step of the way.They have also had discussions with 30-some nations to see what crossovers could be created.

We are working on fixing our financial credibility, the shuttle is getting ready to fly, we have a new direction and there is a well-defined architecture in-place to ensure agency efforts support this new direction, the budget is fully funded, contracts have been awarded,the industry, the academy, and our international partnersare excited and involved, new education programs have been created, opportunities to be a part of this new effort are endless, and there is a real newenergy and air of creativity flowing. This seems like a pretty good legacy to me. Regardless of what his motives are for leaving-- I'm thankful that O'Keefe and the current agency leaders have helped restructure NASA and have given us (or reminded us of) our purpose -- the peaceful exploration of our universe. So if you find yourself doubting O'Keefe and doubting NASA and nay saying around every corner -- ask yourself -- Are you really integrated enough into the agency to even know what is going on?? -- If the answer is no -- then it's really not fair to comment.

Thank You,


Judging by the number of people who wish their comments to be anonymous, it appears the fear of retribution from NASA management is still present. The NASA culture hasn't changed much since the Columbia accident, has it?

Make mine anonymous too
A downsized NASA contractor

Keith -

Please keep my name anonymous.

I wasn't sure what the best way to summarize how I felt about Mr. O'Keefe's tenure as NASA Administrator until Ifinished reading Sean O'Keefe'sdeparture press conference transcript.

He referenced the Hippocratic Oath ("Do no harm"), and the Doctor metaphor seems to be the most apt.

Mr. O'Keefewas the political version of the ER Doctor sent on the evac chopper to a crash site.Keep thepatient alive while the emergency crews get the patientout of the wreck, keep the patientalive and get the patient stableon the flight to the trauma center. Once there,hand the patient off to theto the trauma team at the hospitalwith the more sophisticatedresources.

It's great thata long term practical strategy of solar system exploration was finallybrought forth,but sacrificing Hubble and the Shuttle programshows that the steps that Mr. O'Keefe advocatedmaykeepNASA going for the near term, but have very serious complications down the road.

The ER Doctor is usually the guy who specializes in keeping you alive in a crisis, but probably not the guy you want doing a new complicatedsurgical procedure thatcould have life longconseqences.

Goodbye and good luck, Mr.O'Keefe. You did no harm (I guess),and thanks forkeepingthe patient alive. Now it's time for your successor toset up the long term strategythat will keep the patient alive and thriving.

Sorry to see him leave. Best wishes, Mr. O'Keefe, and the rest of NASA too.

An Irish Blessing (or two)

May there always be work for your hands to do;
your purse always hold a coin or two;
the sun always shine on your windowpane;
May a rainbow be certain to follow each rain;
the hand of a friend always be near you;
May God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you.


May the road rise to meet you;
May the wind be always at your back;
The sun shine warm upon your face,
The rain fall soft upon your fields,
And until we meet again
may God hold you in the hollow of His hand.

Kenneth M. O'Connor
John H. Glenn Research Center
Cleveland, OH.
P.S. Keith, keep up the good work. Permission granted to use my name.

Anonymous please!

I'll miss Mr. O'Keefe, he's done a lot for NASA and for space exploration.. but I would like to point out all the civil servants who are sending their kids to college on their present salaries. My own two kids, for example, are going to Ivy League schools and I'm a GS13, Step 1, and a single parent. The "I need to make more money" reason just rings hollow with the rest of us who are struggling to give our kids every opportunity but choose to remain in government because we feel called to serve.

Sean O'Keefe was brought in to do one thing, continue to assembly the space station until "core complete" was achieved while limiting budget overruns. Unfortunately, due to the Columbia disaster, he was unable to accomplish his main objective. My problem with Mr. O'Keefe is that he apparently had "blinders on" to all the other programs during his tenure. It has always been clear that ISS was the number one priority despite the fact that its only producing limited amounts of science.

The decision to only return to flying the shuttle if every one of the CAIB recommendations is implemented is honorable, but flawed. Some of these recommendations are proving to be difficult, if not impossible to achieve. There is some risk associated with manned spaceflight. There always has been risk, and always will be. The engineering teams do the best to mitigate this risk and the astronauts fully know the danger involved and accept it. If we were all as "risk-adversed" as Mr. O'Keefe, we would never enter the morning rush hour. Every risk has to be weighed against the potential knowledge and benefit to be gained and judged acceptable in order to continue.

Fortunately for everyone on this planet, the National Academy of Science has recently declared Mr. O'Keefe decision to service Hubble using robots a bad idea. Hopefully, his successor will reverse this decision and start training an astronaut crew as soon as possible. It could be argued that the 4 previous servicing mission to Hubble were NASA's finest work since the days of Apollo. For Mr. O'Keefe to put an end to these highly successful missions was the worst decision of his tenure.

Hopefully, the next administrator will be a "NASA-guy", promoted from within the agency.

-Tim (you can call me Steve) - Another Hubble hugger

Most of the comments I see from present and past NASA employees makes me even sadder to see Mr. O'Keefe go. They still don't get it! O'Keefe saved NASA's a**. When he took over the agency it had a space station that was hemorrhaging red ink, an aging fleet of increasingly dangerous spacecraft, no direction and the morale of a soviet gulag. During his tenure he brought fiscal responsibility, the beginnings of a new spacecraft but most of all a new direction, something NASA has lacked since July 24th, 1969 when Apollo 11 "returned safely to the earth'.

Many people have said that NASA needs an astronaut or engineer as administrator. I don't think so and here's why. The true scope of what O'Keefe accomplished was evident last month. He is a skilled politician that not only got NASA a hefty increase when other non-defense or non homeland security agencies were receiving cuts, he was also able to wrangle full monetary discretion from congress. This is something that would have been unthinkable under Goldin. For my money the next NASA administrator should be a good politician/manager. Someone who can do the political in-fighting with the best of them and also has the president's ear.

His most controversial decision has been the canceling of the Hubble repair mission. James Webb the first (and in my opinion best) NASA administrator had a similar choice during the Mercury program. He canceled a seventh Mercury flight, a three day mission by Allen Shepard. Nobody was happy about it but Webb argued, "If you do it and it's successful, it doesn't mean a hell of a lot. If we were to have a failure we couldn't recover. It might stop the manned space program.". While a success for the Hubble service mission would be more beneficial than a seventh Mercury flight a loss of another shuttle and crew would end US manned space flight in our lifetime. Let's also not forget that the Webb telescope will be in orbit around L1 in 2011 or 2012, the Hubble repair only buys us a few years of observation but the price of failure is too high.

I would like to say thanks Mr. O'Keefe for a job well done.

Earl Blake


I am disappointed that Mr. O'Keefe is departing before the Vision he helped get off the starting blocks is set on more firm footing; he has demonstrated his Beltway finesse as an effective government administrator (including an ability to admit his own limitations and errors), and this above all else (including any aerospace technical expertise, despite what many have opined) is what NASA needs. (Let's not forget that it was a Bureau of the Budget man who guided NASA in the 'golden'age of Apollo.)We can onlyhope that his replacement is at least half as capable at shepherding a bureaucracy.

As I review the comments regarding Mr. O'Keefe's departure, though, I am struck by the fact that manyspace aficionados still do not appreciate a fundamental element of his HST servicing mission decision. They speak of risk, but they are only considering the risk to that particular mission'screw.Whilesome of the pointsO'Keefe set forth in his original explanatory memo might be debated, we mustread between the lines to appreciate how his decision fits into the larger picture of the future of NASA, and set this against the fact that HST is but one instrument (albeit, a remarkable one)in a much wider field of astronomy.

To pull off the Vision inside the sustainable budget that he helped set forth (the first year of whichhe helped get fully approved, I might add), threemilestones tied topreviously establishedprogramsmust occur: completion of the Space Station, retirement of the Shuttle,and then execution of research on the Station that will support future solar system exploration by crewed spacecraft. With only three space shuttles remaining, we can't afford to take a chance losing one of them on any mission that doesn't contribute directly to achieving these milestones.For better or worse, Station completion depends on the Shuttle; consequently, we must use every shuttle launch (and all the risk that implies, to crew and hardware) to complete the Station as quickly as possible. Then we can retire the Shuttle, which in turn willenable the acceleration ofCEV development. [This is another point many seem to miss when they bemoan the development timeframe for the 'simple, capsule-like' CEV; regrettably, the realities of the annual budget ceilingprecludeour being ableto fly themannedCEV in parallel with the notoriously expensive shuttle.]

Mr. O'Keefemade a tough decision while wearingthe restrictiveshackles of inherited circumstances; when set against the backdrop of the larger vista of our future in space, I think the wisdom of his decision shines.

I wish him luck.

Bob Mahoney

The moon-mars program requires cancellation of various programs including the shuttle and station: I think that Sean O'Keefe realized that the current shuttle contractors will not let it die, and they have political clout. Futhermore, all the other things that NASA would have to cancel also have their own constituencies. The fight over the Hubble sets a clear precedent. Therefore there will not be any money to shift to the moon-mars program as originally planned. The problem is apork barrel politics which can not be solved by any NASA administrator. The only way the moon-mars program will happen is if it is fundedin addition to all the other projects that NASA already is doing. Between tax cuts and the war in Iraq, I don't see that happening.

Steve Harrington, Ph.D
Lecturer in Aerospace Engineering, San Diego State University
President, Flometrics,Inc.

(The fact that no-one posts their name in this forum is scary)

O'Keefe spoke a lot of long-winded, high-sounding words and phrases ("quintessential", "storied legacy", yada-yada-yada) which, in their essense were just "fancy-wrapped bull-****". He agreed to adopt all the CAIB recommendations BEFORE they were vetted to the employees for analysis and recommendations; and of course, that vetting was primarily for show (i.e., objections and dissent were stifled). Then he overkilled us with PMA-One NASA-CAIB-BST action items (the list goes on and on and on and on), without condensing and prioritizing them. That's why I (and I suspect the majority of NASA employees and contractors) found it hard to figure out what he REALLY wanted. Indeed, even the programmatic decisions he made were suspect, too. The Hubble servicing mission question was botched from the start. The Moon-Mars plan appeals to trekkies, but not much to the average American on the street. The demise of the first A in NASA was allowed to continue. So this is how I would grade his tenure: Rhetoric- A, Relations with the Administration and Hill- B, Accomplishments- C, Credibility within NASA- D, Technical Smarts- F.

Anonymous [NASA GRC]

President Bush has been very successful in establishing a competent and qualified team for his administration, but one exception has been Sean O'Keefe. It is good for the United States civil space agency for him to depart. There has been a noticeable lack of leadership by the Administrator. A two year plus hiatus in Shuttle flights after the Columbia disaster is a disaster, especially compared to the Apollo returning to flight eight months after the fire on the pad. Allowing the Shuttle Return to Flight costs to get totally out of hand (at the expense of other programs). Allowing the Space Station to do nothing but exist with only two crewmen - letting down the U.S. tax payers and the ISS partners. The decision to not service the Hubble Space Telescope with the Shuttle, or even considering it as an option.

From: A former long-time NASA employee and Program Manager

Please withhold my name or do not release this.

Never thought I would see O'Keefe resign so early. I think this is a good thing (I can hear a lot of scientists breaking out the champagne). Hopefully the new administrator will reverse O'Keefe's decision for a Hubble servicing mission with the Space Shuttle.

Steven S. Pietrobon (Australia)

Mr. O'Keefe has done a great job as NASA Administrator, making strides in integrating the field centers together and starting to get cost over runs under control.

Then we lost Columbia and he had to lead NASA through one of its darkest hours. Many thought that losing another Shuttle would spell certain doom for manned spaceflight for a long time. Instead, we are now talking about how to best begin the new exploration initiative while meeting our already existing obligations.

It took a lot of work from a lot of people to keep NASA's manned space program not only alive, but finally give it a real destination and Presidential support. We have O'Keefe to thank for that.

My only complaint about his policies is the decision not to service Hubble. With no visible-spectrum replacement on the books, we need to keep Hubble working for as long as we can. NASA can't ignore how famous the telescope has become and the public's outcry to the lack of servicing. If we cannot risk sending astronauts to anywhere but the Station, how do we ever expect to send crews to the Moon and Mars?

I am worried that this change in leadership will allow NASA to revert back to its old ways instead of moving forward with the reforms O'Keefe has started. I also worry about whether the new Administrator will be able to sell the new Vision to Congress as well as he did.

I see a lot of promise in NASA's future, but it is precarious. I hope things are still heading in the right direction by the time I am able to join the NASA family.

Ryan Caron
Aerospace Engineering student
Worcester, Mass

I am saddened by the departure of Sean O'Keefe from NASA. I have been in and around the space program since the late 1980's and though new administrators have come and gone, O'Keefe is the only one who even dared to have any success deconstructing the NASA center centric structure of the agency. Having the CFO's of the centers report directly to headquarters rather than to their center director's was a masterful stroke. As no one in the past was able to do, O'Keefe began to break the grip of Boeing, Lockheed, Northrop and others from being the sole recipient's of NASA contracts for important efforts. He has built a good team at NASA headquarters who at least understand that this is probably the agency's last chance to do it right in exploration.

On the other hand there are ominous signs that unless a strong, 'take no prisoners' leader comes in all the work that happened this year to get the budget passed will add up to nothing and we will have merely SEI II as another failed legacy. The 'Shuttle forever' crowd is still strong and advocating a Shuttle-derived as the HLV for the exploration effort. While on the surface this may make some modicum of sense, a deeper view shows that it does nothing but preserve the existing contractor relationships and staffing levels at centers related to the STS program. This of course is the goal, not returning to the Moon.

JPL is also hard at work trying to twist the Lunar/Mars effort into the Mars (maybe we stop by the Moon to nod to the moron president) program. Goddard has set itself up for a 2 billion dollar mistake with a Hubble rescue mission that has failed before it has even started with that price tag. Marshall is so despondent that it is like a beaten puppy dog, ready to do whatever the master says. JSC and the astronaut corps party like it's 1989 and George Abbey is still in charge. The rest are struggling just to stay relevant.

There is absolutely no thought to cost control in any of the CE&R or the H&RT contractor presentations. Until this week they thought that the golden (as opposed to the Goldin) age had returned of an administrator with a direct connection to the president. Without serious attention to cost control and to options that fit within the already published NASA budget numbers there is little chance that, without a Bush "family" member like O'Keefe will there be any further budget miracles like this year.

We simply will not make it back to the Moon for some of the numbers that are floating around. The Boeing, Lockeed, and Northrop (and the little dogs) teams who are also defense contractors with other contracts billions of dollars over budget (AEHF, SBIRS, and many others) and think that they can do the same thing at NASA. Nothing is further from the truth. They don't really care either as many of the business units are new and are easily shifted back to other programs should the vison tank, like in '93 when Clinton came into office.

The return to the Moon and the construction of a cislunar infrastructure is crucial to the future of mankind and is too important leave to amateurs or to those who would just turn everything over to the large contractors. Private enterprise works wherever it is tried and whenever the government supports it with intelligent policy. Time will tell if there is any intelligent life in the space establishment on the Earth.

A concerned citizen.

From the outside looking in at NASA, its a shame that O'Keefe has to leave now.I think he was respected and thought of as a man with integrity.But in trying to recover from the Goldin years, and to suffer the Columbia accident, NASA seems like it is still reeling.Have you looked at HQ job postings the last six months?Its hemorrhaging managers.And now to lose its administrator?It will probably founder for another year or so before anyone can begin to restore confidence.I used to want to work for NASA, but private industry has, and will continue to, overtake it and make it more irrelevant.

do not use my name.

It seems there is a lot of focus on O'Keefe which of course he is the Administrator. However, I wonder about his deputies, which are important positions and the right (or wrong) people can affect NASA programs.

Michael Wright

PS: I wonder if someone will report Sean O'Keefe "fleeing" NASA making it necessary for an "emergency" appointment (like the story on the scheduled Progress mission to ISS) to increase newspaper sales.


I can only comment from my perspective as a research engineer at a small field center. O'Keefe has certainly had a positive impact during his three-year tenure, but major issues remain that are cripplingour performance and threaten the viability of theAgency in the near term. While getting funding for the Exploration Initiative this year was a major accomplishment, the manner in which it was achieved side-stepped most of the difficult policy issues and its unlikely that things will proceed so smoothly this coming year. If we areexpect long term support for this journey it must be openly debated and supported by a majority of our representatives.

From a management perspective, our financial management capability still needs major work--decisions take more time than before and are rarely based ontimely data; financial management tools have been designed for high-level HQ monitors rather than people trying to plan or accomplish the actual technical work; and the unintended consequences of our implementation of full-cost accounting are killing our ability to perform the long-term R&D that NASA is uniquely positioned to perform. Finally, "One NASA" is a great objective, but in the current environment in which center closures are a real possibility, people are fooling themselves if they think that much real progress is being made. Changing e-mail addresses is one thing, changing human behavior is quite another and requires understanding and modify of underlying motivations. Despite chants of culture change, little has been done to addressrootcauses.

The next administrator will have his/her hands full with these issues--we need someone who can balance the managerial, technical, and political pressures on and inthe agency. This is no small task and has already been recognized, a well qualified person has more lucrative opportunities outside the federal government.

Anonymous Please

I was very skeptical when President Bush named Sean O'Keefe as NASA Administrator. Now I'm sorry to see him go, but understand the circumstances. He's been an effective leader through difficult times with lots of change. A new beginning has been provided during his watch. He has been the right man at the right time. Good luck, Sean.

Sign me as "Anonymous"

I'm sorry to see O'Keefe leave so soon. While perfect administrators do not exist, he seemed to be a very good one at this point in time - a calm hand to steer the agency through a tragedy, then encourage it to pull together under a new vision.

The replacement will need to be someone exceptional. As a space historian, I have come to see the value of continuity and the need to maintain a guiding vision that keeps NASA, the rest of the government, international partners, industry, and the American public together in support of the great things we can accomplish when focused on a long-term goal.

I won't be so bold (or Boldin, pehaps?) as to throw out names, but there are some vital things to look for in the next Administrator. He (or she) must be young and energetic enough to keep the momentum of the Vision for Space Exploration, One NASA, and the other initiatives going under the right leadership team over the crucial decade to come. He must be a dynamic leader, but not closed-minded or a micromanager. He must be politically savvy and understand the Washington processes of politics and budget, yet nonpartisan enough so that, if the White House changes parties in 2008, he will likely be allowed to stay on.

O'Keefe helped give NASA a new purpose with the Vision for Space Exploration. What he has created is a foundation for the new Administrator to build on, but it is also a charge to keep. If NASA gives up on the Vision, and turns away from the road of expansion and discovery toward the safe, politically easy path of no-risk enterprises and short-termpayoffs, we will have lost our best chance for the future. Our children, and perhaps their children, can aspire to mothing more than continued presence a few hundred miles above the Earth.

Wishing the best of luck in the future to Sean O'Keefe, and the best of luck to the Adminsitration for finding the kind of rare leader needed to replace him - one who can unite the engineers, scientists, technicians, taxpayers, and partners on Earth to keep our eyes and our efforts focused on the stars.

Matt Bille
Space writer/historian
Colorado Springs, CO

Well, oh gee this guy 'has to put his kids through college', not withstanding some of us are doing this with about half his salary! Ah, and then there's all those 'difficult decisions'. Well, sorry, but I don't see a tearful Secretary of Transportation resigning because 400+ people died last year in airplane crashes and 40,000+ on the nation's highways, nor have all airplanes been grounded and highways closed to traffic.

I used to like O'Keefe, but the more I think about this sounds more like a Public Relations person who's all flash, but no substance, and is now running away from bad decisions, such as the cancellation of the Hubble repair mission, and realizing he's undersold the Vision for Space Exploration. Don't get me wrong, I support 100% going to the Moon (and Mars), but so far all I've seen are promises and a small budget increase that is not going to get us past LEO. The fact is the CEV will not be carrying astronauts into space until, at the earliest, 2014 and this assumes no delays (anyone remember when the Shuttle was supposed to fly into space by 1977 or Space Station Freedom be operational in the late eighties?). Four decades after Gagarin/Carpenter went into space, and 32 years after the last moonwalk, we're saying it's going to take us at least decade to design, test, and launch an Apollo-style capsule to LEO? Doesn't anyone else realize there's something very wrong with this picture?!? How is this supposed 'recapture the days of Apollo'???

Let' face it, we've had four years, and very little real work has been done. In the good old days this would have been enough time to:

1. Reopen the Apollo production line (with new systems replacing those out of production), add a Shuttle/Soyuz compatible docking ring, and make an unmanned test flight on top of one of the last Titan IV, while continuing work to design a larger Apollo style craft (the Apollo Rescue Vehicle could already have carried 5 astronauts on its way back from Skylab).

2. Decide on whether to develop a 'Delta V' (say a 5 booster rocket configuration, instead of the 3 as in Delta IV Heavy), or a variation of the 20 year old concept of the Shuttle-C, to boost large payloads.

3. Reopen the facilities at Jackass Flats, Nevada, and pickup where Nerva (nuclear thermal rocket stage) left off on January 1, 1973.

But no, so far and over 60 billion later (4 years x ~15 billion/yr)- all we have are some very nice slides and reports, just as we used to complain about Goldin.

I apologize for my harsh tone, but being stuck 3 hours in traffic this morning gave me a lot of time think and realize we've been had. This time around let's get a real engineer (one who actually understands technical briefings), and politically knowledgeable, as N

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on December 28, 2004 9:06 AM.

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