Goldin names local lawyer to prestigious NASA panel

Mark McDaniel will serve on group that oversees agency policy

Times Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON - Huntsville attorney Mark McDaniel will see his first space shuttle launch in person at the end of this month, and he'll do it as a new member of the NASA Advisory Council, the prestigious panel that helps oversee space agency policy.

McDaniel, 49, was appointed to a two-year term on the panel by NASA Administrator Dan Goldin at the urging of the White House and Rep. Bud Cramer, D-Huntsville.

The next meeting of the group will begin Nov. 30 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The council will consider issues ranging from space science to minority business contracts, and will then view the shuttle launch, slated for that evening.

''It's a great honor to be named to what I think is one of the most prestigious councils in all of government,'' McDaniel said. ''I see it more as a compliment to the outstanding work that has been done in Congress by the Alabama delegation and specifically by the people at Marshall (Space Flight Center).''

McDaniel is a defense and corporate attorney who has long been active in politics. Cramer and state Democrats have touted him as a possible federal judge, and the White House has considered him for federal legal posts for nearly two years.

McDaniel said he told the White House he'd like to do something with NASA, and it responded with the advisory council.

''I was always interested in something I could do that could benefit the people of North Alabama specifically,'' McDaniel said.

The NASA Advisory Council is little known to the public but is ''the Olympus of space policy,'' said John Pike, the space policy director for the Federation of American Scientists.

NASA has had advisory councils throughout its existence, but the current council was formed in 1977. Its members, usually scientists, academic or business leaders, are chosen by NASA and report directly to the administrator.

''When there are major policy problems or opportunities, they can play a significant role in either trying to figure out how to solve the problem or take advantage of the opportunity,'' Pike said.

Cramer said having an Alabama member on the council would be helpful for Marshall Space Flight Center and North Alabama.

McDaniel said he'll consider space policy issues impartially, but he said he'll also be on the lookout for policy that would hurt the Marshall Center.

''I can assure you, if I am here in a briefing and it's not favorable to Marshall, certainly I would speak up,'' McDaniel said.

Although he's known primarily for his legal work, McDaniel said he studied physics and chemistry at Athens State College and grew up steeped in science and math.

His father, the late John L. McDaniel, worked with the Wernher von Braun rocket team before it went to NASA and retired from Redstone Arsenal as the highest-ranking civilian scientist.

''When the German science team was at the Army, Dr. von Braun would come by our house . . . I got to sit and listen to those people,'' McDaniel said.

McDaniel said his main interest on the advisory council would be pushing NASA's role in promoting science and math education, particularly among students - like his father - who come from poor backgrounds.

''If we can just excite our students, we can really do some good,'' McDaniel said. ''If I can do that, I will have had a good tenure on this board.''

© 2000 The Huntsville Times. Used with permission.