You know how some of those old game shows would have a “lightning round” where contestants would have to answer as many questions as they could in a minute or so? Yesterday’s Senate hearing on the shuttle and the future of human spaceflight was something along those lines. The hearing started about 15 minutes late because of a previous Commerce Committee confirmation hearing, and had to end at 11:30 am—just 45 minutes after it started—because of some Senate rule. So, instead of trimming some portions of the hearing, like the second panel of witnesses, or simply postponing the hearing to a future date, the subcommittee managed to squeeze in the entire hearing in 45 minutes. Time was so short that the second panel was asked to condense their opening remarks to two minutes instead of the customary five.
Because the hearing was so brief, there wasn’t a lot of consequence said during it. There was some gentle verbal sparring between Griffin and the two senators in attendance, Hutchison and Nelson, about how changes to the ISS assembly schedule might impact research on the station; Hutchison in particular is concerned that there may be less of an emphasis on ISS research, making it difficult to, for example, find a cure for breast cancer.
On a related note, Griffin spoke later in the day at the Space at the Crossroads conference in Washington. I wasn’t there, but one person who was—Robert Zubrin, who gave his standard spiel Wednesday night at the Ethics and Public Policy Center—said that Griffin stated that he plans to make a decision on development of a heavy-lift launch vehicle (HLLV) by some time next year. Given Griffin’s past statements, he would likely lean in favor of a shuttle-derived system. Left unsaid, though, is the provision of the new US Space Transportation Policy that requires NASA to coordinate with the Defense Department on HLLV requirements; DOD will likely have a preference for an EELV-derived system.