George Abbey, the chief of NASA's Johnson Space Centre, in Houston, Texas, has been demoted and sidelined by administrator Dan Goldin. He is now senior assistant for international issues.

Goldin was reportedly reacting to the Bush adminstration's concern about the management style of Abbey, a powerful force in the US manned space programme.

He will be replaced temporarily by Roy Estess, director of the Stennis Space Centre. It is also expected that Goldin will be replaced as adminstrator.

The moves reflect the criticism that NASA has come under for cost overruns on the International Space Station (ISS). Wrestling with immediate $4 billion cost overspends on the ISS, Abbey had recommended saving money by stopping all work on manned Mars exploration and reducing the size of the astronaut corps.

The inflatable ISS module Transhab was ditched and work on future propulsion systems limited. Current spending on the ISS has so far reached $30 billion, well over the $17.5 billion promised by Goldin and it is estimated that the total cost to get the ISS operational in 2006 could reach $100 billion.

"The daunting reality of completing and running the station is facing NASA," says space agency watchdog NASA Watch.

Source: Flight International