Excerpts - The Rock From Mars

Chapter Seven
The grand inquisitor

David McKay and Everett Gibson sat in leather wing chairs big enough to make almost anybody feel small. It was Wednesday, July 31, 1996, and they were on the top floor of NASA’s Washington, D.C., headquarters, a few blocks southwest of the U.S. Capitol dome.

Dan Goldin, the NASA boss, glared across his desk as he pounded them with yet another question in his muscular South Bronx baritone. They had originally been scheduled to meet with him for thirty minutes. Instead, he had been grilling them for three punishing hours. He was the Grand Inquisitor of Space, his eyes glinting with a sinister light—or so he wanted them to believe. Goldin had spent the previous day at the White House, going over the implications of the claims about the meteorite from Mars with the president and vice president. The reactions there had excited Goldin, made him feel in his gut what he already knew in his head to be the true dimensions of the looming revelation.

From the moment his lieutenants had informed him that NASA civil servants in Houston were proposing a hypothesis about possible life on ancient Mars, Goldin had been mindful of its explosive aspects, its “giggle factor” potential, and the fact that this was happening in an election year. He had decided it was crucial for him to hear the whole story from the instigators themselves, face-to-face and in detail.

In addition to understanding a thing or two about rocket science, Goldin had studied management techniques and prided himself on his ability to shove people out of their psychological comfort zone. He would subject his targets to a flamethrower blast of intimidation—the Goldin Grill—designed to test human mettle while demonstrating who was in charge. Most people caved or, as he put it, “wiltered.”