The controversial staff director of the National Space Council, the Cabinet-level agency that sets the nation's space policy, is stepping down after a three-year tenure marked by calls for better management at NASA and a push for smaller, less-expensive space projects.
Mark J. Albrecht, 41, was widely viewed as one of the principal architects of the council's efforts to curb the appetite of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for more long-range, expensive space endeavors.
At the same time, Mr. Albrecht strongly championed what could turn out to be the most expensive space mission in history -- President Bush's call for a $400 billion effort to return to the moon and send astronauts to Mars sometime in the next century.
Mr. Albrecht, who will leave his $119,300-a-year job on June 1, said that Mr. Bush was expected to name a replacement soon. Mr. Albrecht declined to discuss his plans but sources close to the space council said that he would join a private consulting firm.
He said that he was moving on because "the goals we had set for the council have been achieved . . . I think we certainly have raised the nation's attention on space the way it probably hasn't been raised in 15 years."
Mr. Bush picked Mr. Albrecht in March 1989 as the first executive secretary of the newly reconstituted space council, an inter-agency group that includes the vice president, the NASA administrator, the secretaries of state, defense, transportation, commerce and treasury as well as key national security officials.
Meanwhile, in Houston yesterday, astronauts from the shuttle Endeavour said that the task of capturing the elusive Intel-6 communications satellite last week was so daunting they asked for divine intervention.
"There were a few tense moments where we all sat down quietly to ourselves and said, 'OK, if only this works out, I promise I'll go to church every Sunday,' " pilot Kevin Chilton told the crowd of several hundred well-wishers at Ellington Air Base near the Johnson Space Center, NASA's center for manned spaceflight.
"And then it got to be, 'OK, if only this works out, I promise I'll go to church every Saturday and Sunday.' And pretty soon we had all the days of the week filled up up there," he said.