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PLAYING POLITICAL GAMES AT NASA?

Dan Goldin, nominated to head the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, is a victim of circumstance. Despite an impressive background, Goldin may be part of a White House plan to further politicize and militarize NASA.

Although he was an admiral, outgoing NASA administrator Richard Truly, a former astronaut, leaned more toward NASA's civilian mission. Goldin, a NASA outsider, has expertise in Star Wars technology, an administration favorite.To NASA's misfortune, the White House is making Rep. Norman Mineta's prediction come true. The California Democrat said this White House and its private industry parrots on the National Space Council would turn NASA into "a political poker chip . . . a public relations tool for the rehabilitation of Dan Quayle."

Bush seemed to second that motion when he said, "Working with the vice president as chairman of the Space Council, Dan Goldin will ensure America's leadership in space as we enter the 21st century."

Goldin, vice president of TRW Space and Technology Group, most likely will tell Bush what he wants to hear. With Truly's ejection as guide, Goldin will have little choice.

If NASA is a political football, Bush has made Quayle quarterback, with Goldin about to receive. Quayle chairs the Space Council, which frequently disagreed with Truly's direction. Truly is gone as of April Fool's Day. There's a joke in there somewhere about this hostile corporate takeover.

Truly will take with him his good reputation, gratitude for having reformed NASA after Challenger and also a post-graduate degree in Beltway bullying.

Goldin was a research scientist at NASA's Lewis Research Center in the 1960s before joining TRW. And TRW has received more than $400 million in aerospace contracts since 1989. Will TRW gain or lose with him at the helm? NASA just may lose, especially if Goldin is the man Bush and Quayle expect him to be.