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Former astronaut Fred Gregory looks set to be named NASA's next chief administrator. He was named as the acting-chief by congressional spokesman Joe Pouliot, according to reports. He will take up the post on Monday, after the current boss, Sean O'Keefe, comes to the end of his tenure today (Friday).

Gregory, who has served as deputy to O'Keefe since 2002, is the veteran of three shuttle flights, and was in mission control the day of the Challenger shuttle disaster. He will take the helm at NASA as the agency prepares to restart Shuttle missions after the fleet was grounded in 2003, following the loss of the Columbia. He will also be the first African American to head the agency.

It is not yet clear whether he will be a permanent successor to O'Keefe.

In related news, the out-going NASA chief has defended himself against allegations that he wasted government money on expensive retreats, and inappropriate travel during his time in charge at the space agency. The Associated Press reports that O'Keefe is being investigated by the General Accounting Office, Congress's investigative agency, but the GAO has declined to comment.

The investigation was launched in June last year at the instigation of Maine's republican senator Susan Collins. Some of the issues under investigation predate O'Keefe's tenure at the space agency.

NASA has also declined to comment, saying it would be inappropriate to discuss an ongoing investigation. ®

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