Transcript of Press Conference with Bill Parsons and Mike Kostelnik at NASA Headquarters (Part 1)

Status Report From: NASA HQ
Posted: Friday, May 9, 2003

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10:00 a.m.

Friday, May 9, 2003



MODERATOR: We are going to have opening remarks by General Kostelnik who will then again will reintroduce you to Bill Parson. General?

GENERAL KOSTELNIK: Good morning, and thanks for coming out and giving us an opportunity to roll out our new program director for this very important program at this very important time.

I recall back several weeks ago, prior to the Soyuz launch, the Expedition VII crew, we announced that Mr. Dittemore had chosen to remove himself from office and go on to other opportunities, and at that time, we indicated we would be kicking off a fairly broad search for just the right candidate to fill a very big job.

So it is a distinct pleasure today to introduce Bill Parson who is currently the center director of the Center space system and a member of the Space Flight Leadership Council, a very important senior official already in our leadership team in the area of human space flight, and he has graciously accepted this challenge and this opportunity to serve as the new program director for the Shuttle system.

As I have told you before, this is not a job that just anybody could do, and this is not a time for other than the very best candidate, and we are fortunate that all of these things came together.

We looked far and wide, both within NASA and exterior to NASA with former people who had been within NASA who are currently in industry. We looked at a lot of great candidates with a lot of great skills. We were concerned with leadership. We have a concern with management acumen. We were concerned with professional characteristics and obviously wanted somebody experienced in the program.

All of these skills will be brought to bear during the next year as we return this vehicle to flight and as we return this vehicle to the very important mission of completing the assembly of the International Space Station.

I want to tell you a little bit about -- [audio break] -- and as I mentioned, the leadership activity aspect is one of the most critical parts of the job description during this next year in particular and in the future years as we continue to support the integrated space transportation plan.

Bill did serve with the Marines and then tried his hand in industry. He is an engineer, has a bachelor of engineering degree from the University of Mississippi, later was to get an engineering management degree from the University of Central Florida. So he has the technical expertise.

He started off as a working-level engineer in the space industry at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and then transitioned in 1990 to become part of the NASA team, first as an engineer and then as an engineering manager and working, first of all, in the Shuttle area in various capacities of management, and then transitioning to the International Space Station.

So, in his early years between 1990 and 1997, he focused very much one of the key aspects that we were looking for, and that is depth of experience in the space business. He is well qualified to serve in this capacity having worked the processing details of Shuttle at the Cape and also worked now with our primary customer for the Shuttle, the International Space Station, in the area of integrating and processing also at the Cape. So the in-depth of experience would be typical of the type of NASA managers we would look for, but most importantly -- and I think his strongest characteristic is his breadth of experience.

In 1997, he would leave the Kennedy Space Center, which is not the norm for civil service employees who typically stay in a center for most of their career, and he went to Stennis where he managed the test operations for the SSME's over at the Stennis Space Center that he is at leading now. And that would be kind of a typical move pattern in a way for a person who was mobile, but then he would leave Stennis and go now this time to the Johnson Space Center, where he had worked first as the managing and director of operations. Ultimately, he would serve as the deputy center director.

So not only is he getting depth of experience in the space flight business, but he is getting incredible breadth of experience now having served in three of the four human space flight centers at each time increasing levels of managerial responsibility.

He would leave the Johnson Space Center in 2001 to assume a chief of operations director job at Stennis and then in 2002, based on his overall performance and his breadth and depth of experience in our business, he was named the center director where he has served up until the present time.

Both exterior to NASA and interior to NASA, we could not have found a better qualified candidate, a natural leader, trained in leadership early on in his Marine Corps days, a very astute manager, technical degrees and broad technical experience in these programs, most important to us dramatically in the program, but also in the primary customer, the International Space Station, key management jobs at three of the human space flight centers. We could not have asked for a better candidate.

He has great people skills, as you will soon learn. He is well respected in our industry. I have worked very closely with him over the 9 months that I have been with NASA in his leadership capacity as a center director and as a member of the Space Flight Leadership Team, and I cannot think of a better choice to lead us in this charge to return to flight.

I think he will come totally dedicated to find the problems that we had with the Columbia incident, to work very closely with the return-to-flight team, and to support that planning effort, and then to lead the execution, to get this back to bringing the Shuttle fleet back to service, continuing the mission of assembling the International Space Station, and supporting the mission for the Shuttle fleet as outlined in our integrated space transportation plan.

So it is a great pleasure to welcome Bill to this new capacity. He will be transitioning into the job early this summer, working in close relationship with Ron Dittemore to make sure we have a smooth transition of leadership, that we have the benefit of the transition information that we have learned from the Gehman Board and the pieces that we will learn, to work very closely with Jim Halsell on return-to-flight team, and by midsummer, we expect him to be fully in place and at the reigns of command.

So, with that, I would like to introduce Bill and give him an opportunity to say a few words about his thoughts on this challenge and this tremendous opportunity.


MR. PARSON: General Kostelnik, thank you for the kind words.

It is quite an honor to be here today and to have this opportunity. General Kostelnik said some good things about me, but what I would say is it is about me a little bit. It is about the Shuttle program, which is extremely important to this agency. It is about all those people that work on this program, not only the civil servants, but the contractors, and what I look forward to do is work with those people and learn more about what we need to do from the Columbia Accident Investigation Board and then get to work on doing those things so we can get back to flying again.

So, again, I am just going to keep it short, and I will open it up to you all or turn it over to you, Glen, and see where we go from here.

QUESTIONER: [Inaudible.] What is the most important lesson you expect to learn from Mr. Dittemore?

MR. PARSON: Well, I think I can learn some good things from Ron. I think Ron has been an outstanding program manager, and I think that over the period of time that I have had an opportunity to work with Ron -- and I did that quite closely when I was at the Johnson Space Center -- I think his approach to running the Shuttle program has been very solid.

I think he has good processes in place. I think we will use those processes to maximize the efficiencies and effectiveness of what we do from this point forward.

I think Ron also showed us a strong character when we had our tragedy, and I think that -- you know, I hope I don't have to deal with a situation like that, but I think I learned a lot from Ron on how he approached that event.

QUESTIONER: I am Debbie [inaudible]. I work for Reuters.

I will ask the most obvious question. This is not a normal time to be heading the Shuttle program. What do you see as your biggest challenge coming in with a grounded Shuttle fleet and with the acknowledgement by NASA that the exact cause of it might never be pinpointed?

MR. PARSON: The greatest challenge is to take the findings of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board and work with the entire community to then lay out a plan of how we are going to return to flight, and I think that, you know, you are right. It is probably not the easiest time to come in and take over the Shuttle program, but then, again, I look forward to the challenge.

I think that I have a great team in place right now that will help work through those issues, and as we get the findings from the board, then we will start working hard on trying to do the right thing so we can get back to flying safely.

QUESTIONER: Sir, Larry Wheeler with Gannett News Service.

Some of us were at a congressional hearing yesterday where we were surprised to hear a Member from Texas, of all places, say that he wants to see the Shuttle fleet grounded until NASA could build a much safer vehicle. Is that troublesome to you?

MR. PARSON: Well, I think that, you know, I came to this job thinking that we are going to fly again, and that is what my job is, is to find out what we need to fix, to fix it, and to get back to flight, and so, you know, I find it troublesome maybe that there are thoughts like that out there, but we have to work our way through that.

I think that we can fly the Shuttle safely, and so we look forward to doing that in the future.

QUESTIONER: Heather [inaudible].

Can you just comment a little bit about your timing to [inaudible] at JSC? And tell us what it will be like to go back there.

MR. PARSON: My time in Houston.


MR. PARSON: Well, Johnson Space Center is probably the most wonderful place I have ever worked. I mean, it is the best people I have ever worked with, although all the folks who are at the program are outstanding. I mean, Johnson Space Center has some very, very special people. So I look forward to going back and working with my good friends and working with the management of the Johnson Space Center, working with the Shuttle program folks that are there as well. So I think it is going to be a great experience.

QUESTIONER: Tracy [inaudible], USA Today.

I am wondering if you have any trepidation about taking this job [inaudible] no guarantees that [inaudible].

MR. PARSON: I mean, this is a big challenge for me, and I had to think my way through it, but again, as I said before, the Shuttle program is extremely important to this agency, and to have this opportunity to work with the contractors and the program folks to get this Shuttle flying again so we can complete the International Space Station is something I look forward to.

QUESTIONER: Bill Lance, Washington Times.

The question is [inaudible]. How old are you? And then with respect to --

MR. PARSON: What is [inaudible]?

QUESTIONER: It is now.

With respect to the search, what is important is to appoint someone quickly, and then how many people did you look at, how many candidates?

MR. PARSON: I'm 46.

GENERAL KOSTELNIK: We looked at quite a few. I won't get so specific as to name, the number, but it was quite a few that we looked at, both external to NASA, but had previous NASA experience, and some internal.

And the other part of your question?

QUESTIONER: It was [inaudible] quickly.

GENERAL KOSTELNIK: No, not -- that wasn't the -- that wasn't the driver. Obviously, we have a firm commitment from Mr. Dittemore that he would stay through a reasonable transition period. In fact, Ron had committed that he would stay until we have a formal return-to-flight plan. That will still be end of the summer. We are still waiting for many of the Gehman Board results that has yet to be determined.

This early announcement just gives us an opportunity to be able to start a transition. As you might guess, the Shuttle is an incredibly complex piece of machinery, an annual budget of about $3.5 billion or so. There is not only operational aspects. There are acquisition aspects. It is a very complex management job and does take some time to have a transition.

Bill is a great leader and a solid manager, but has not been involved intimately with some of the moving parts of the Shuttle. In some time, this will give them a reasonable time to do the graceful transition. So we will let Bill go to the center early, work closely with Ron, get to know the senior leadership, and this time when we are still doing some things, but waiting for more information from the board, this is just an ideal time to give Bill as much prep as possible to sit in a very big job.

So it is convenient that we do this early, but where it is determined to be necessary.

QUESTIONER: Eric Pianne [ph] with The Washington Post.

Mr. Parson, there has been a lot of talk during the investigation about the culture of NASA management, decision-making, chain of command, whether people in the lower ranks are heard loudly enough in the [inaudible].

Do you expect that there is going to be significant change in the way NASA does business in the future or not?

MR. PARSON: Well, I think the Shuttle program processes are pretty solid, and so I don't foresee us going through making an awful lot of changes to the process of how we go through to determine if we are ready for flight and we are safe for flight.

I think we always have to be able to look at our systems, at our processes, and make sure that we are utilizing everything we can to make sure that people have -- the people that have a voice have an opportunity to express themselves.

I mean, I am going to be working with people. I have had a reputation for being a good listener and for making sure that I get -- give everyone the opportunity to say what is on their mind. I think I create an atmosphere that allows people to do that, and so that is what I look forward to doing in the Shuttle program.

If things need to be changed, we will change them, but at this point in time, I think we are going to stick with what we know, and then we will look at what comes up from the accident investigation board and determine what we need to do from there.

QUESTIONER: Bob Hager with NBC.

Apart from what the Gehman Board is going to say, do you have any notions of your own of the kinds of things that you think has to happen before the Shuttle flies again?

MR. PARSON: I would prefer not to speculate on that right now. I just think I need to wait, get to know the Shuttle program a little bit better than I do right now, and hear what Admiral Gehman's Board has to say and then talk with Ron a little closer, and we will take it from there.

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