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Griffin meets the press

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin will be in a hot seat normally reserved for politicians on Sunday morning: as a guest on NBC’s “Meet the Press” hosted by Tim Russert. The program will also include a “historic” interview with three members of the shuttle crew: Eileen Collins, James Kelly, and Charles Camarda. While Griffin’s appearance is billed as an exclusive to MTP, the shuttle mission and space policy will make appearances on other Sunday morning talk shows, including “Face the Nation” on CBS.

41 comments to Griffin meets the press

  • Has anyone here noticed that most of the astronauts have nothing interesting to say? Certainly Eileen Collins fits that description. She sounds like she is just reading from NASA press releases.

  • Cecil Trotter

    I had only noticed that about you Greg.

  • Mike Puckett

    I think Greg’s coment says more about himself than it does Commander Collins.

  • Since you guys claim to know better, here is a list of quotes from Commander Collins in an AP article that has been republished thousands of times:

    “Personally, I did not expect any large pieces of foam to fall off the external tank. I thought we had that licked.”

    “I don’t think we should fly again unless we do something to prevent this from happening again. The shuttle is due to be retired eventually, but we’ve got more years in them. … I’m not ready to give up yet.”

    “I would say there is no significant damage to the shuttle. We know we do have some small damage.”

    “We are staying focused on the mission and we know we are in good hands with the people on the ground. I love being in space. It’s magical up here.”

    “We have always had the option of staying on the space station. I don’t think that is going to be the case for us.”

    Where is the daylight between any of this and generic NASA press releases? This does not sound like Mike Melvill, or Wayne Hale, or even Keith Cowing. This is 100% canned goods. Nonetheless, this is what gets full court in the papers, and on the airwaves, and Tim Russert wants to hear it again.

    No one really expects to learn anything from space shuttle astronauts. Some people just want to hear them talk.

  • Dfens

    The first rule of career day: if you don’t drive the bus, no one wants to talk to you. It’s always, “and what do you do again?” Then you see the back of their head as they say, “that must be very interesting.”

  • TORO

    So what has changed?

    After Challenger, Admiral Truly predicted the Columbia would still be flying in the year 2005.

    I think that right stuff irrational exhuberance is gone now. So back then, when failure was not an option, or so it was thought, the arrogance was allowed to continue. But as Abe Lincoln might say, you can’t fool even the all of the press all of the time. (Well realize there are more press now.)

    To get to my point, back then if anybody who is anybody at NASA were to say “the fleet is grounded”, the bowing press knew it meant just for a while until the shuttle flew again. BUT now, if anybody who is anybody says “the fleet is grounded”, the press takes their sentence out of context if they so desire and says “for the record, somebody at NASA said that is the end of the shuttle.”

    So NASA is on the defense, from not until glory days return. That is a LONG time. As Alan Greenspan might put it, “The Right Stuff Irrational Exhuberance market tide appears to be changing.”

    The folks at NASA will have to be on the defense regarding what they say. Just wait and watch all of the clarifications to come.

  • billg

    Greg, Commander Collins, I suspect, believes what she says. Sorry if you think she’s boring, or somehow throttled by NASA or simply parroting NASA press releases. Perhaps you’ve fallen prey to the unfortunate tendency to assess the veracity and usefulness of someone’s speech by his or her willingness to be deliberately contrary. That, it seems, is something you might be accused of practicing here.

    TORO, is their any reason at all why anyone should care what the press says about NASA or the Shuttle? How will that have any impact on any of NASA’s decisions? Why should anyone pay atttention to reporting by people who, quite clearly, lack the expertise needed to write cogently on space travel? That’s a bit like depending on USA Today and MSNBC for guidance on treating cancer.

  • TORO

    billg,

    Do you remember the press showing Challenger over and over and over? Politicians worry about the press, and NASA is the political wonderchild champ of the ’60′s. Open societies need the free press – free to create a mess often. And they need a story to sell. It is part of the biz.

    The press yesterday asked Griffin to clarify Wayne Hale’s comment to the Astronauts about being “mortified” by the foam loss. What is Griffin going to do, say yes he too was mortified, and then what would the next day’s headlines say? Thus Griffin had to clarify Wayne Hale’s comment, as predicable.

    Your point is a good one – perhaps it is too bad there cannot be more reliance upon a scientific press.

  • I’m sure that Collins does believe what she says. I believe what she says too. In fact millions of people believe what she says, before she even says it. Because she obviously is parroting NASA press releases.

    She wouldn’t necessarily have to be contrary to be interesting; at least not contrary to NASA. Mike Melvill was interesting, and he wasn’t contrary to Burt Rutan. The difference is that Mike Melvill wasn’t canned goods. He had something original to say, because he had something original to do.

    It isn’t Collins’ fault if she has nothing original to say. She is just doing her job, which, if not original, is still hard in some ways. It’s the fault of NASA for offering canned goods, and it’s the fault of the press for buying them. It just makes no sense for these bland, parroted quotes to be the centerpiece of the news.

  • billg

    Greg, first, it is quite possible for Collins to say the same thing as everyone else at NASA and not be parroting a press release. Why? Because Collins might actually agree with the press release, and because the press release might actually be honest. You seem to be casting aspersions on Colliins simply because she doesn’t publicly disagree with NASA. If you worked for NASA, neither would you. (As for Melvill, wait until Rutan has several dozen more fights under his belt and see how interesting his employees sound then. Collins isn’t doing anything that other astronauts haven’t done many times before. Expecting her to have something new and interesting to say is rather like expecting professional athletes to have something new and interesting to say in the locker room after their umpteenth game. Ain’t gonna happen because it’s all been said before.)

    Second, don’t fault of NASA’s PR shop for offering “canned goods”. It is the job of an agency’s public affairs officers to reflect the decisions and policies of that agency. It is not their job to be objective or inquisitive or to present views that contradict their employer’s.

    Faulting the press has more merit. Interviewing crews on ISS is a well-worn stunt, but even if they were in their living rooms in Houston they aren’t going to say anything newsworthy. The press is well aware of that, of course, but the Sunday morning talk shows aren’t really interested in making news. Griffin is quite capable of saying something newsworthy if asked the right questions, but that seems unlikely.

    In truth, the kind of reporting that readers of this blog might appreciate will never happen in the general media. The subject is too specialized and requires too much reporter knowledge. So, instead, we will see reporting that’s on a par with health and diet reporting: 45 seconds to explain why [fill in the blank] cures/causes cancer… you know the drill.

  • On the contrary, it is the job of the press office of a government agency to be objective. That should come before trying to make the agency look good. If NASA were a private company, it would be different.

    I agree that human spaceflight as NASA is fundamentally public relations and that the astronauts are a lot like professional athletes. I don’t know why they bother with most locker room interviews either — aren’t they usually a signal to change the channel? But the difference is that the NBA doesn’t spend tax money.

    At least one major news desk often does rise above accepting canned goods from NASA: The New York Times. (Unfortunately, not always.)

  • The astonauts are just spokesmen for NASA. It is a big public relations project. The foam comes off because they eliminated the use of freon. Thank-you tree huggers. You are responsibile for the deaths of many. Congratulations freaks. NASA has never made a public announcement for the cause of the foam problem. They just blame it on the age of the Shuttle fleet. Go to hell you pricks. You are political bastards, all trying to protect your jobs.

  • billg

    Greg, having been a government public affairs hack, I can tell you that my job was specifically to attempt to mold and shape how the media reported my agency’s activities, and to publicize and promote the interests of my agency. Was I objective? No. Did I tell the truth? Yes. They are not mutually exclusive.

    If you “agree that human spaceflight as NASA is fundamentally public relations and that the astronauts are a lot like professional athletes.” you certainly are not agreeing with me, because I didn’t say that. In fact, I couldn’t disagree more strongly with that assertion.

  • Monte Davis

    “Bug man” says: The foam comes off because they eliminated the use of freon. Thank-you tree huggers. You are responsibile for the deaths of many.

    Say, Bugster, there’s a guy over on sci.space.history and sci.space.shuttle who’s describing your version as “a widespread urban legend.” He also knows its ultimate source: “worldnet.com [Joseph Farah, noted rocket scientist] had some pretty raving pieces.”

    You should go set him straight. But be gentle: he’s a new guy, without your sharp eye for NASA cover-ups. Name of Jim Oberg.

    Have fun!

  • Jim Muncy

    If I may bring us back to the topic…

    Notice that Mike Griffin talked about his commitment to retire the Shuttle by 2010 no matter what… and publicly restated his goal of not just exploring but settling space.

  • Fly Swatter

    Come on bug man, can’t you find something better to do, like chase windshields? The shuttle has had bug hits since day uno. Someday when humans settle on Venus you can find a cozy fly trap to engross yourself in.

    It is the shuttle design itself – in Challenger testimony the ASAP discussed the on the order of 1,000 crit one items.

    This past year NASA has reviewed old shuttle close calls and somewhere between half and all deal directly or indirectly with cargo – the cargo bay, the size and dimensions needed to haul cargo, etc., etc.

    The shuttle design is simply not so good, and right stuff exhuberance is over.

    We need to separate crew and cargo. Robotic or just one or two astrotruckdrivers for future LEO cargo deliveries. Astronauts deserve a crash dummy, roll tested compact – with seat belt and air bag – something the bird never had.

  • We need to separate crew and cargo.

    No, we need to build reliable vehicles.

  • Cecil Trotter

    Simberg: “No, we need to build reliable vehicles.”

    And until then, seperate crew and cargo… ;-)

  • Bill White

    Jim Muncy wrote:

    Notice that Mike Griffin talked about his commitment to retire the Shuttle by 2010 no matter what… and publicly restated his goal of not just exploring but settling space.

    Permanent settlement! Yup. I noticed.

  • Bill White

    Jim Muncy wrote:

    Notice that Mike Griffin talked about his commitment to retire the Shuttle by 2010 no matter what… and publicly restated his goal of not just exploring but settling space.

    Permanent settlement! Yup. I noticed.

  • billg

    Of course, we need to build reliable vehicles. But, there’s no particular reason to build a single all-purpose vehicle. That’s why we have trucks, buses, and cars, and why KC-10s don’t have seats for 300 people.

  • Nick B

    When you mention “trucks,” you couldn’t be referring to the ones that carry 5 or so passengers and a half-ton of cargo in the bed. You know, the ones that have been somewhat popular in recent years. You also couldn’t be referring to something like a Suburban, obviously.

  • Paul Dietz

    The reason we have trucks, cars, buses, etc. is that the market for those vehicles is so large that it’s economically justified to spend the extra money engineering specialized vehicles.

    The central feature of the market for launch to space is that it’s *small*. If it weren’t, we’d have multiple competing reusable launchers on the market right now.

  • Nick B

    And I don’t see how that’s relevant to the question of whether to separate crew and cargo. I just don’t see a fundamental reason for doing it. If someone wants to convince me that it’s the best way to do things, go for it. The arguments I’ve seen so far just don’t do it.

  • Dan

    When you mention “trucks,” you couldn’t be referring to the ones that carry 5 or so passengers and a half-ton of cargo in the bed. You know, the ones that have been somewhat popular in recent years. You also couldn’t be referring to something like a Suburban, obviously.

    Surely these types of trucks are useful for small projects, but how much could something like that contribute to a major construction project? A half ton of cargo and 5 passangers may seem like alot, but what do these trucks do for a large construction progect in the whole scheme of things? Working constuction I can tell you, “Not a whole lot”. The heavy hauling is left to dump trucks, 18-wheelers, and cranes. If we used only these half-ton trucks in our business, nothing would ever get built, they simple don’t have the capacity we need and it would take entirely too many loads to make it economically feasible. They are great for moving the bosses and minor loads of tools on and off the job site. I’ve never seen one carry an integral part of the project onto the site, though, they are pretty much useless for that.

    Substitute “half-ton truck” with “Space Shuttle” and “large construction project” with “International Space Station”, and you’ll see what I am getting at.

  • Nick B

    Excellent straw man. I never argued that such trucks were suitable for major construction. And yes, ideally I would like to see a variety of launchers become available. I’m simply speaking from the perspective of an engineer who wants to come up with the best design based on multiple factors, not merely the fact that on a single prior vehicle, cargo carrying produced problems. That doesn’t convince me that there’s a sound reason at this stage in vehicle development to explicitly separate the two.

  • Bob

    This truck vs passenger argument doesn’t make sense to me. The airline planes from Boeing and Airbus are both used for cargo and passenger with a few simple inside modifications.

  • BREAKING NEWS:

    Apparently, the Europeans have discovered a “pool” of water ice overlying a dune field and open to the air at the bottom of a Martian crater.

    http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/Mars_Express/SEMGKA808BE_0.html

    – Donald

  • Dfens

    I don’t know that much about trucks, but in launch vehicles the main difference between a manned or unmanned version is cost. Anything manned has to have single fault tolerance for reliability and dual fault tolerance for safety. This doesn’t only apply to the vehicle, but also to the payloads (cargo) that ride along.

    An example of where these redundancy issues have been a problem in the past involved the Centaur upper stage and the Galileo spacecraft. When Galileo was redesigned to launch in the shuttle, it was designed to launch on top of a Centaur. When they couldn’t get that booster man rated, they switched over to an IUS booster, which was already man rated, but had less ISP. Had someone not come up with a really creative gravity assist scheme, the program would have died.

    I think it would be a good idea to have separate vehicles for cargo and people. Don’t even get me started regarding how little safety man rating actually buys. The vehicles do need substantial reliability improvements across the board. The fact that two 9′s worth of reliability is considered ambitious 40 years into the US space program says plenty.

  • mrearl

    The problem is not combining crew and cargo, it’s design! Hang a spacecraft with fragile heat dissipating material on an external tank that sheds foam and ice and you have problems. If the orbiter sat on top of the tank than the Columbia tragedy would never happen. So to save the SSME’s we lost seven crewmen.

  • Nick B

    Personally, I’d rather we try to make both manned and unmanned flights more reliable, as it gets pretty expensive if you’re losing payloads left and right. The point about higher margins of safety for manned flights is well taken though. I just think that our expectations as far as overall reliability of launch vehicles have been set far too low for the past few decades. By now, we should be able to design a launch vehicle that does not inadvertently shed large pieces of itself under normal operating conditions.

  • Cecil Trotter

    I don’t see anything inherently wrong with launching crews with cargo, only with making a crew a necessity to launch any cargo as in the shuttle. Using a manned spacecraft to launch a probe like Cassini makes no sense to me.

    Also making the cargo compartment of a vehicle permanently attached to the crew compartment, as in the shuttle, makes it difficult to impossible for the crew to safely abort in many emergency scenarios. This should be avoided in future designs, at least until vehicle reliability and durability is several magnitudes greater.

    Launching crews and cargo together in the Apollo mode where the cargo is behind and separate from the crew is perfectly acceptable, IMHO.

  • billg

    Seems to me the fundamental reason for separating crew and cargo is that people weigh a lot less than cargo. If you only have one all-purpose vehicle, then you either launch crews with large empty cargo bays or you launch a lot of piecemeal cargo flights. Even if we’d continued to use the Saturn 5 an Apollo, we would not have used the full-up vehicle just to put 3 people in LEO.

    In any case, as Rand said, vehicles need to be reliable, regardless of how many different kinds of vehicles we fly. That, though, is a different issue, unless a desire to build a particular kind of vehicle causes you to fall prey to political and budgetary constraints and compels you to build a fundamentally bad design.

    Griffin is no fan of the Shuttle. If projected costs and downtime for this round of tank fixes puts his VSE schedule at risk, or if he believes there is no fix, I would not be surprised to see him end crewed Shuttle flights now. If a Shuttle-derived cargo vehicle could be made to accommodate the unlaunched payloads of the ISS partners, he might soothe their angst by offering to do just that after 2010. If not, it sure doesn’t look like the Shuttle or the ISS are on Griffin’s critical path.

  • TORO

    If you separate crew from cargo to low Earth orbit, you can concentrate on a gemini sized vehicle with launch escape system, and continuous improvement of reliability, bail-out, and minimize size and cost. There are many fewer crit 1 components. This technology and reliability imrpovement will be needed someday to and from the Mars surface, and same philosophy – and the same most dangerous step. You could have several companies bid the rocket and several bid the crew transport and launch escape system, so if one rocket fails the show can go on. But politics probably won’t allow such capitalism and survival of the fittest, most reliable, cheapest rocket to happen.

    Hopefully this would make cargo launches cheaper and constraints fewer.

    Once in orbit, you can combine cargo and crew again – Apollo 13 demonstrated that two vehicles in one redundancy was a lifesaver – and make interplanetary travel very safe compared to the planetary ups and downs. (Slow boat to China .. perhaps even with China).

    The same transport module to and from planetary bodies can be used to build space stations and planet habitats at first. One 5 year then it craters recreational vehicle module two person building block, with several variations, does it all.

  • Edward Wright

    > Seems to me the fundamental reason for separating crew and cargo is
    > that people weigh a lot less than cargo. If you only have one all-purpose
    > vehicle, then you either launch crews with large empty cargo bays or you
    > launch a lot of piecemeal cargo flights. Even if we’d continued to use the
    > Saturn 5 an Apollo, we would not have used the full-up vehicle just to put 3
    > people in LEO.

    If you had a reliable low-cost vehicle, why would you continue flying cargo on the Saturn V at 100 times the cost? That’s not an argument for separating crew from cargo, it’s an argument against the Saturn V.

    > If you separate crew from cargo to low Earth orbit, you can concentrate
    > on a gemini sized vehicle with launch escape system, and continuous
    > improvement of reliability, bail-out, and minimize size and cost.

    Don’t mistake bail-out for what you see on TV, where a gentle puff of air tosses Batman out of his Batmobile. In real life, “successful” ejections often leave pilots with longterm disabilities. The aviation term is “attempted suicide to avoid certain death.” It’s a last resort, not a first resort. When people talk as if they can make an ELV safe just by adding an ejection system, it shows how unsafe ELVs really are. No one in aviation ever says (for example) “we can leave out the engine restart system because we have an ejection seat.”

    > There are many fewer crit 1 components. This technology and reliability
    > imrpovement will be needed someday to and from the Mars surface, and same
    > philosophy

    What makes you think it’s not needed for cargo? Federal Express worries about reliability and cost just as much as any airline does. What’s the advantage of delivering cargo on an unreliable (and therefore high cost) vehicle?

  • Edward Wright

    > Personally, I’d rather we try to make both manned and unmanned flights
    > more reliable, as it gets pretty expensive if you’re losing payloads left
    > and right.

    How do you propose to make unmanned flights as reliable as manned flights? Even in aviation, unmanned vehicles are orders of magnitude less reliable. Why would you expect unmanned space to be different in that regard?

    > The point about higher margins of safety for manned flights is well taken
    > though. I just think that our expectations as far as overall reliability of
    > launch vehicles have been set far too low for the past few decades. By now,
    > we should be able to design a launch vehicle that does not inadvertently
    > shed large pieces of itself under normal operating conditions.

    We can, but first we have to design not to *advertently* shed larges of themselves in normal operations.

  • TORO

    Mr. Wright nobody should assume, agreed?

    Are there not two types of cargo – on Earth, as it is in heaven??? Cheap and expensive? A Hubble Space Telesope is expensive cargo, while water, food, laundry, is perishable and should be cheap? But with the shuttle all mail is first class – no way to minimize cargo class cost, and I am not saying to do so.

    There is some cargo I would not want to lose, but there is a lot of junk mail in my mail box I could live without. We need to learn how to make cargo cheaper to begin with – mass production.

    Regarding launch escape, without data it is all just hype. We gave up LES after November ’63 or so with Apollo, thinking failure no longer an option. I don’t watch batman. Automakers crash test vehicles in various failure modes to collect data. There is no data collection with rockets LES’s for low or high altitude or fast or slow or failure mode, so no need for you or I to speculate. We can hypothesize… a version of the LES did save a couple Cosmonauts, but that is just one datapoint. I’ve seen too many space shuttle is this or that reliabilities based upon many good and one bad datapoints … now 2 bad datapoints.

    I’d like to see more testing. I’d like to see a developmental space agency.

  • Edward Wright

    > A half ton of cargo and 5 passangers may seem like alot, but what do these
    > trucks do for a large construction progect in the whole scheme of things?

    Let’s see. Assume you fly to orbit 5 times a week, with two weeks for annual maintenance. That’s 250 trips a year. In one year, this hypothetical vehicle can carry 125 tons — the equivalent of one Skylab — plus 1250 passengers.

    A fleet of four such vehicles could launch the equivalent of four Skylabs plus 6000 passengers a year.

    A fleet of 40 could launch the equivalent of 40 Skylabs plus 60,000 passengers.

    > Working constuction I can tell you, “Not a whole lot”.

    Not a whole lot compared to terrestrial construction, perhaps, but a hell of a lot compared to anything NASA has done, is doing, or is planning to do.

    > The heavy hauling is left to dump trucks, 18-wheelers, and cranes.

    Yes, because the amount of material hauled on Earth is orders of magnitude more than anything we’re contemplating in space. It may be efficient to use dump trucks, 18-wheelers, and cranes to build the MGM Grand. That doesn’t mean it’s cost-effective to use them for building an outhouse at a Scout Camp. Especially if you have to develop a dump truck, and 18-wheeler, and a crane and assign all the costs to the construction of the outhouse.

    > I’ve never seen one carry an integral part of the project onto the site,
    > though, they are pretty much useless for that.

    That means you’ve never seen a small home improvement project.

    > Substitute “half-ton truck” with “Space Shuttle” and “large
    > construction project” with “International Space Station”, and
    > you’ll see what I am getting at.

    I don’t see what you’re getting at. The Shuttle is not a half-ton truck; its cargo bed has the same capacity as an 18-wheeler. Depending on an expensive, unreliable heavy lifter did not make ISS go smoothly. If we had a dependable “half-ton truck,” we could have real space stations in orbit now — with thousands of visitors a year.

    “Not a whole lot” by Las Vegas standards, but not too shabby by space standards.

  • MrEarl

    The key to CEV will be versatility. The Apollo command and service modules had the versatility of being able to use two different boosters. The Saturn IB for LEO and the Saturn V for lunar missions. The CEV should be able to have different service modules and launch vehicles to fit the mission not make the mission fit the vehicle.
    As for launch vehicles shedding pieces of their self’s that has been happing since Sputnik 1. Just look at some of the footage of a Saturn V launch. There’s just a shower of ice coming off the vehicle. The difference had always been that the cargo or crew sat at the top away from all this.
    As for making things cheaper, nothing brings down prices like volume and competition. If NASA was smart it would contract out all ISS resupply to competitive bids guaranteeing 4 to 6 flights per year. Making smaller trips more often gives us the volume of flights we need to bring down pieces and makes us better able to respond to the stations needs in a more timely manor.

  • billg

    I agree that NASA should contract out cargo and trash pickup runs to the ISS. If they did that now, the Russians would win because they’re the only folks with a demonstrated capability to dock an automated vehicle with ISS.

    Mr Wright: I was not arguing cost and I was not suggesting building new Saturn 5′s. I was only pointing out the waste involved in relying on a single all-purpose vehicle because, at the last, you’d be sending crews up in otherwise empty vehicles. Airlines don’t fly jumbo jets on routes that only generate a handful of passengers, and they don’t buy or fly kind of all-purpose aircraft. There’s reason for that and they work for space vehicles as well.

  • Edward Wright

    > I was only pointing out the waste involved in relying on a single all-purpose vehicle because, at the last, you’d
    > be sending crews up in otherwise empty vehicles. Airlines don’t fly jumbo jets on routes that only generate a
    > handful of passengers, and they don’t buy or fly kind of all-purpose aircraft. There’s reason for that and
    > they work for space vehicles as well.

    Non sequitur.The airlines do not separate crew from cargo. Nor do they use “crew” to include both flight crew and passengers — an annoying malpropism NASA has introduced into the English language.

    Passengers and cargo may or may not be separated onto different flights or different types of airplanes. Cargo and crew are never, ever separated onto different airplanes. The reason why cargo flights are not unpiloted can be summed up in two words: money and reliability.