Article 43

 

Monday, September 08, 2008

About The Shuttle

shuttle.jpg

Frustrated NASA Chief Vents About Agency’s Fate

By Robert Block
Orlando Sentinel
September 6, 2008

CAPE CANAVERAL In congressional testimony and speeches across the country, NASA Administrator Mike Griffin has presented the Bush administrationגs space policy as under pressure but on track to RETURNING AMERICANS TO THE MOON by 2020. His public face has been steadfast.

But privately, the agency chief is far less certain.

In a remarkably candid internal e-mail to top advisers obtained by the Orlando Sentinel, Griffin lashed out last month at the White House for what he called a jihad to SHUT DOWN THE SPACE SHUTTLE, expressed frustration at the lack of funding for a new moon rocket and despaired about the future of Americaגs human-spaceflight program.

The tone of the note depicts a man watching as his finely crafted plans for a revitalized space-faring NASA appear to be melting before his eyes.

“My own view is about as pessimistic as it is possible to be,” Griffin wrote on August 18.

NASA on Friday confirmed the authenticity of the e-mail, which offers a rare insight into Griffins views as the agency faces its greatest challenge since the end of the Apollo era and perhaps in its 50-year history. Griffin wrote his e-mail in response to messages from advisers encouraging him to call off the retirement of the shuttle.

In the e-mail, Griffin says he fully expects the next president to order NASA to continue flying the shuttle, even though he considers the aging orbiter unsafe and consuming money needed to design and build his Ares moon rocket and Orion crew capsule. He acknowledges that the shuttle will remain - for the foreseeable future - the only means to transport U.S. astronauts to the international space station.

What about shuttle?

Griffin last week acknowledged in an interview with the Sentinel that he recently ordered his agency to look into the possibility of more shuttle flights after the orbiterגs planned retirement in 2010, but his e-mail makes clear he did so grudgingly.

“They will tell us to extend shuttle,” he says of a new administration. “There is no other politically tenable course. It will appear irrational - heck, it will be irrational to say we’ve built a Space Station we cannot use, that were throwing away a $100 billion investment, when the cost of saving it is merely to continue flying Shuttle.”

And the long-term cost of such a move, he writes, will likely matter little to America’s next political leadership.

“Extending the shuttle creates no damage that they will care about other than to delay the lunar program. They will not count that as a cost,” he writes.

“They will not see what that does for U.S. leadership in space in the long term. And even if they do, they have a problem in the short term that must be solved.”

Griffin’s harshest words were reserved for his bosses in the White House:  the Office of Management and Budget, which sets spending goals, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy, which advises the president.

“In a rational world, we would have been allowed to pick a shuttle retirement date to be consistent with Ares/Orion availability, we would have been asked to deploy Ares/Orion as early as possible (rather than not later than 2014) and we would have been provided the necessary budget to make it so,” he wrote.

The rational approach didn’t happen, primarily because for OSTP and OMB, retiring the shuttle is a jihad rather than an engineering and program management decision.

The White House would not comment when asked about the e-mail. But a few hours later, Griffin penned a retraction.

“The leaked internal e-mail fails to provide the contextual framework for my remarks, and my support for the administrations policies,” he said in a statement to the Sentinel.

A no-nonsense and supremely self-confident engineer with a pilots license and seven degrees - including a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering Griffin, 58, was brought into NASA in April 2005 to turn President Bush’s vision of sending astronauts to the moon and Mars into reality.

Restoring the glamour

His aim was to restore the glamour that has been fading since the agencys moon days. He was no fan of the shuttle or the space station, saying they kept Americans circling Earth rather than exploring the stars.

Key to his plan was retiring the shuttle in 2010 and distancing the agency from the space station. It called for a three-year gap between the shuttle’s retirement and advent of the Ares rocket. The money freed up from the shuttle program was to give Ares its final financial push to the launchpad.

But the moon initiative put severe pressure on NASAs budget, forcing Griffin into a difficult balancing act: trying to create a next-generation spaceship without crippling other programs , ranging from Earth - observation satellites to Mars robots.

Still, Griffin continued to support the administrations plan, with no public complaint.

Bean-counter battle

Over time, the White House failed to back NASA’s budget requests, holding it at about $17billion, and Congress rebuffed bids to increase it by $1billion or more. Meanwhile, technical issues slowed development of the Ares rocket. The gap grew to five years, amid grumbling by Congress and dissident scientists and engineers inside NASA.

“When Mike began the job, he and his team were counting down the months, knowing that they had limited time to accomplish what they wanted,” said a friend of Griffins who asked not to be identified. “They were ramming plans through the agency to make them unstoppable.”

But now it’s falling apart.

Space historian Howard McCurdy of American University said Griffin’s tensions with the White House are not without precedent: Even in the days of Apollo, NASA bosses battled administration bean counters.

“What you are looking at is the fog of public policy making,” McCurdy said. If you looked down from a distance, [Apollo] was this beautiful straight line to the moon. But if you got up close, it was the fog of war with fights over money and strategy. It’s the same now.

Griffin’s top aides have urged him to extend the shuttle program because Russias invasion of GEORGIA looks likely to cut off NASA’s access to Russian Soyuz spaceships.

Dependence on Russia

If the shuttle is retired, NASA needs Soyuz to take astronauts to the space station for at least five years, until the Ares rocket is ready in 2015. But NASAs contract to buy Soyuz runs out in 2011. To buy more, Congress must waive a ban on high-tech purchases from RUSSIA because of MoscowҒs nuclear dealings with Iran.

That waiver is looking extremely unlikely. The Georgia incursion has chilled US-RUSSIA RELATIONS , and Congress is in no mood to channel dollars to Moscows aerospace industry even if it means grounding U.S. astronauts.

Griffin has termed U.S. dependence on the Russians “unseemly” but said the Soyuz was a crucial part of a transition from the shuttle era.

But in his e-mail, Griffin says his White House bosses were uninterested in the space station and didn’t care one way or another about relying on the Russians.

They were always ӑokay with buying Soyuz, nd even if it didnҒt happen, well, that was okay too, he wrote.

“Mikes e-mail approaches Shakespearean tragedy: capturing a brilliant man’s painful recognition that there is no easy way out of this box that NASA is in,” said James Muncy, a space-policy consultant who worked in Congress and the Reagan administration.

“Hopefully,” he added, “the fresh pair of eyes that enters [Washington] on January 20th will realize flying the shuttle well beyond 2010 not only doesn’t guarantee American utilization of ISS after 2011, but carries risk and costs much greater than delaying America’s return to the moon.”

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 09/08/08 •
Section Dying America
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