As the newly appointed administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Alan Stern, 49, is the conductor of a symphony of current and future space journeys to destinations as diverse as Saturn, Mars, Mercury, the moon, the sun and assorted comets and asteroids. In the public mind, NASA has been stumbling for a long time, at least when it comes to its shuttles. But the space agency has always been more than its manned ships, and through all the hard years, the unmanned program has continued to send nimble and affordable craft all over the cosmos. Late last year, when the agency was looking for a new person to lead this jewel of a division, it selected Sternand the choice was a smart one. Long before he was tapped for the job, Stern had made his NASA bones. He was a summer intern with the agency in 1979 and later worked in the private sector and the research field, always in a capacity that kept him involved with NASA projects. He was a member of the NASA Advisory Councila committee of policy-setting agency wise menand is a pilot and flight instructor. The combination of hands-on and bureaucratic experience gives him a unique feel for the physics responsible for getting machines off the ground and the politics responsible for keeping them flying. Stern will need those and other talents for the work ahead. NASA has an astonishing 95 unmanned probes either in space or scheduled for the near future. "If it's a science mission, it's ours," he says matter-of-factly. To folks who know space, that's a reason to feel good.
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