Griffin on Congress, White House changes

The St. Petersburg Times (the one in Florida, not Russia) has a brief but interesting interview with NASA administrator Mike Griffin in Sunday’s issue. Besides talking about the lunar base announcement earlier this month and Mars exploration plans, the paper asks Griffin about what the change in party control of Congress means to NASA. Griffin gives a standard reply:

I would observe of course that we didn’t get the… very one-sided majority… without plenty of Democrats pitching in. NASA has not historically been a partisan agency…

(There are enough ellipses in that quote to make one wonder what else Griffin said.) The Times then asks whether he thinks Bush’s successor might change NASA’s overall exploration plans. “I would hope that doesn’t happen,” Griffin responded, adding that “the choices are pretty stark”, based on what the Columbia Accident Investigation Board noted in its report:

And then they went on to say (that) if it’s going to be done, that the goals ought to be worthy of the cost and the risk and the difficulty of the enterprise. That’s rational. And then they added that a human space program, a human space program which dead-ends at the space station is not, does not qualify. That was a rather thoughtful piece in their report…

So we need to go beyond the space station if we’re going to do it at all. Now I personally do not envision any president or any Congress putting an end to the U.S. manned spaceflight program. I hope I do not live to see such a thing…

Griffin added that the “geometry of the solar system” means that the next destination for human spaceflight is the Moon, followed by Mars. “So when I look at all that and mush it up together what I come out with is a future president or a future Congress may say go a little faster or go a little slower, but I don’t see the rational grounds by which anyone is going to say pick another goal.”

15 comments to Griffin on Congress, White House changes

  • nooneinparticular

    I hate to nitpick an excerpt of an excerpt of a talk, but this comment from Griffin at the top of the article sent my bull**** meter off the scale:

    “What we’re talking about there is a man-tended research station … very much like what we see in Antarctica today. But what I’d say is hit the rewind button. … Humans had been to Antarctica in 1912 … And then nobody went again for 40 years. And when we went back it was with completely different technology and with research in mind and a long-term presence….

    That’s the kind of thing we’re talking about on the moon. By the time we go back it will be 50 years since we’ve been and we’ll be going back with different technology”

    Aside from leveraging Silicon Valley advances in information technology (which NASA has nothing to do with), how can anyone with a straight face call Ares I/V/CEV “different technology” from Apollo? Even Griffin has called it “Apollo on steroids”. If anything NASA is going backwards technologically by using solid rockets. Maybe that’s what Griffin means by “different technology”.

    Comparing the relatively minor differences between Saturn and Ares to the huge technological advances that occurred between the sailing ships that first explored Antarctica and the powered ships (and airplanes!) that eventually planted outposts on Antarctica is especially insulting and galling.

    This little quote is also worthy of derision:

    “we’ll be going back… in much greater force.”

    Oh yeah — one more astronaut and four more days than Apollo. That what I call “much greater force.”

    I’m not saying that the Antarctic analogy would hold up any better with EELVs, Direct, or any other near-term architecture.

    But it’s bad enough that Griffin drank the Scotty-rocket Kool-Aid with all its technical poison. Could he please stop hallucinating with the overly grandiose and false historical analogies as well?


  • Doug Lassiter

    Amen to going beyond the space station. But hmmm, geometry of the solar system pointing to the Moon followed by Mars? This is about planting feet on rocks I guess. There are other very useful places for building things — Lagrange points for example, and perhaps GEO and HEO — that don’t offer that nice feel of rocks between the toes. But hey, they are part of the geometry of the solar system too.

  • Good interview. Griffin once again demonstrates his personal broad vision and practical skill at literally engineering the new vision. Thankfully someone like Griffin has appeared at the right moment to drive the space program forward to a new level of technology and capability. His finely balanced understanding of past and future is finding the way through the political maze and steadily moving NASA towards Mars and beyond.

  • Thankfully someone like Griffin has appeared at the right moment to drive the space program forward to a new level of technology and capability.

    Americans should be grateful that George W. Bush and Michael Griffin are recreating technologies and capabilities we had 40 years ago.

    Go Team USA! U RA RA!

  • After Griffin’s speech, deputy director Johnson of OMB came out with a “statement” critising the whole nasa mission statement as balony.

    Well mr Johnson, I don’t know if mankind as a species is hardwired to explore..

    I do hope that there is more to this Universe than driving to work each day, watching your parents, your friends grow old and pass on, and than you yourself grow old and pass on. I think as a species we must seek answers to the ultimate questions.
    I don’t know maybe some people see exploring space as seeking the forbidden fruit , but I really don’t think of this pathethic little world as eden.
    Thats just one gal’s opinion.

  • Hey, Doug, here’s another rare moment of (partial) agreement. I don’t think that Mars must, or even should, immediately follow Earth’s moon. It’s too big a leap. Nearby asteroids and the Martian moons should both come first.

    That said, there a great advantages to “rocks between your toes.” It’s a more familiar environment than free space, and we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of tacking the relatively familiar before the completely alien. But even more important, depending on the nature of said rocks, you can “live off the land” to a lessor or greater degree. Outside of power, you can’t do that in free space.

    (If we didn’t already have an established political coalition for returning to the moon, I might even argue that NEAs should come before that. Notwithstanding that I think there is a lot of extremely valuable science to be done on the moon, both the scientific and resource benefits of asteroids are likely to be higher.)

    — Donald

  • I’d rather see us going to Mars, but with the political climate now you take what you can get. And I think the moon is our only shot at getting out of earth orbit.
    Through l2 destinations might be more practical but try to explain something as intangiable as a langrange point to a congressman.

  • Doug Lassiter

    “But even more important, depending on the nature of said rocks, you can “live off the land” to a lessor or greater degree. Outside of power, you can’t do that in free space.”

    Well, if this were about “living” rather than “doing”, I might accept the assertion.

    Important point about power. When the Sun goes down, those rocks between your toes get kinda cold, the oxygen extraction system grinds to a halt, and the lights go off. That’s when you really wish you had the technology to make use of the 3He you’re standing on, as the wishful thinking about it doesn’t generate a lot of energy.

  • Here, Doug, you might benefit from thinking positively. Most asteroids rotate quickly, and (on non-tumbling bodies) the pole is a short distance away. Power should be readily available.

    Likewise, a polar base on the moon, for (as I recall) a minimum of seventy percent of the time.

    Moreover, rocky bodies offer an added benefit of a near-infinite heat sink in any permanent shadows. You should be able to “sink” directly to the physical surface, potentially an easier process than radiating to free space.

    In both cases, this contrast between high solar temperature next to permanent cold presents ideal conditions for generating power and running many industrial processes.

    — Donald

  • Doug Lassiter

    Polar bases on the Moon will place a premium on horizon visibility. This need, and the challenges that the resulting shadowing entails, is already understood as a serious problem by LAT folks. But that’s another thread.

    Heat sinks are indeed useful in thermal management, but not with hot surfaces. In fact, non-polar regions of the Moon are understood to be difficult re thermal control. The hab gets hot, and you can’t dump the heat into the warm regolith underneath. That’s one advantage of polar ops (ummm, there aren’t many others). BTW, I’m looking forward to watching astronauts trying to walk around on a 100K surface! Ouch! Ouch! Wool socks maybe?

    It’s actually not hard to dump heat in free space. Your radiators need to get hot (as in Prometheus-type nukes), but that works. But except for NEOs (yep, let’s dismantle a few!) you don’t have rocks to grind on up there. Ah well.

  • Drew

    I think the mean equilibrium temperature for a grav-normal surface at the pole is more like 130K. That is still kind of cold. Had wondered how they were going to deal with that. Perhaps they will always hang out on a sun-facing hillside?

  • kert

    I know that the “permanently lit” areas of moon are permanently questioned ( for really bitter critique, see Donald Rapp’s recent rants on )
    Asserting that wireless power transmission is considered “too risky” technology, and putting up a lunar powersat to illuminate the solar panels in the dark is also too far-fetched ..
    Given a “hopper” type of lunar lander or a good rover, how hard would it be to lay few kilometers of power cables on lunar surface around the pole ? so that you could actually get all time solar power, with different sites with panels backing you up.
    It would probably take few cargo launches of the cable, but you would have the problem cracked, for a known cost, with current technology and no leaps of faith.

  • Doug Lassiter

    “… for a known cost, with current technology and no leaps of faith”

    A few *kilometers* of power cable???? C’mon. Spare me. It is NOT known cost, NOT current technology (what, rain and snow proof vinyl insulation?), and quite an enormous leap of faith. Get a grip.

  • Heck, even the rover isn’t in the ESAS plan, is it?

  • Adrasteia

    A rover would only weigh about a hundred kilograms, I assume they’ll bolt it onto the bottom of the descent stage.