In January 1991, once his assignments on STS-35 had been completed, Parker left the Astronaut Office and moved back to Washington to become the Director of the
Parker uses a manual pointing controller for the Astro-1 mission's Instrument Pointing System from the aft flight deck of Columbia during the STS-35 mission.
Division of Policy and Plans for the Office of Space Flight at NASA Headquarters. From January 1992 to November 1993, he was Director of the Spacelab and Operations Program and from December 1993 to August 1997, he was Manager of the Space Operations Utilization Program.
In Washington, his concerns became policies and decision-making about future programme directions, rather than near-term activities. Parker felt it was important to conduct a term at Headquarters as well as at the field centres, knowing it was important to understand what Headquarters was all about for any astronaut contemplating moving into a management role, which many would consider after leaving the Astronaut Office. Coming from a science background and an astronaut career (with flying experience), moving on to a management role would require dealing with bureaucrats and politicians, policy makers and accountants. It would entail a completely different set of skills than for preparing to fly a mission.
One of Parker's concerns during his final years in Washington was the construction of the space station. He realised that building the station would seriously reduce the number of scientific Spacelab flights that fell under his responsibility. It was a challenging balancing act, trying to schedule interesting science on Shuttle missions when there were no guarantees of flying Spacelab missions while the station was being constructed. Could even small science experiments be conducted on the construction missions, or on the space station during its early years? Proposals submitted to JSC came back stating that every mission and every kilo launched on every flight was
needed for the space station, and Parker soon realised he was getting nowhere. In 1997, an opportunity came his way to work at JPL in California, overseeing an office where there was a lot of day-to-day paperwork, from overseeing contracts to the implementation of contracts.
Therefore, from August 1997 to August 2005, Parker served as Director of the NASA Management Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. He was responsible for "on-site oversight of the NASA contract with JPL, and leadership in negotiations of NASA contract requirements with JPL and the California Institute of Technology, the organisation that operates JPL. The director also enables management and technical support for NASA field centres and Headquarters offices that have work performed at JPL.''20 In Parker's words, "My particular job, apart from overseeing the overseers, if you will, was basically keeping NASA and JPL happy with each other.''
On 31 August 2005, Bob Parker finally retired from NASA after thirty-eight years serving as an astronaut and manager. In his 2002 Oral History, he was asked about his span of time and various duties at NASA, and whether there was anything he would have liked to have pursued a little longer. In reply he said, "No ... at the time of course, but in retrospect, I would say no, although I might have liked to have had a bit more success in continuing the science on the Shuttle during this period [of station construction].''
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