Michael Griffin, NASA head, Barack ObamaIs NASA flying blind? Former NASA administrator Michael Griffin, who served under President George W. Bush and resigned when President Barack Obama took office, has taken a professorship at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Griffin will teach mechanical and aerospace engineering in Huntsville, a hub of aerospace activity that is home to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. Meanwhile the space agency remains leaderless nearly three months after Griffin's resignation, with associate administrator Christopher Scolese acting as agency chief in an interim capacity.

In an editorial last week, the Orlando Sentinel called for the White House to appoint an administrator for the space agency. "NASA badly needs a leader and a plan," the op-ed said. "The future of the U.S. space program, billions of dollars, and thousands of jobs, depend on it."

Among the issues facing an incoming NASA boss: whether to continue pursuing Constellation, the ambitious but oft-criticized successor to the space shuttle that Griffin championed, whether to return human exploration beyond low Earth orbit to the fore, and, if so, whether to set the agency's sights on putting humans back on the moon or sending them to loftier targets.

As the Sentinel editorial points out, thousands of jobs at Kennedy Space Center and elsewhere along the so-called Space Coast will vanish when the space shuttle program ends in 2010 as currently planned. (The program's phaseout, placed on temporary hold last year to allow the new president to weigh in, will resume on May 1 without intervention, Florida Today reports.) Without a definitive plan, it will be difficult for those workers and their employers to make the transition.

Early in the campaign Obama had proposed delaying Constellation by five years to free up funds for education; later the candidate reversed course and proposed expediting a replacement for the shuttle. More recently, the president's budget request for fiscal year 2010, released in February, suggested using freed-up shuttle funds to develop unnamed "systems to deliver people and cargo to the International Space Station and the Moon."

Griffin, who was rumored to have clashed with Obama transition team members over potential Constellation cuts, is no stranger to academia. According to his NASA bio, Griffin, 59, was an adjunct faculty member at the University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins University and George Washington University. He holds a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Maryland, as well as a whopping five master's degrees—in aerospace science, electrical engineering, civil engineering, applied physics and business administration—from various institutions.

Griffin portrait: NASA/Renee Bouchard