Yesterday’s hearings by the House Science and Technology Committee and the CJS subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee covered a lot of the issues that had already been covered in previous hearings this week, including plenty of hand-wringing by both Democrats and Republicans about the lack of money to meet all of NASA’s priorities. There was even a proposal by Sen. Barbara Milkulski to hold a bipartisan summit with the White House to create “a national commitment to our space program to put it on a path for success.”
Perhaps the most interesting comments, though, came by Mike Griffin late in the House hearing Thursday morning, in response to a question by ranking member Ralph Hall about the various delays in the CEV/Orion program. Griffin explained that when he became administrator he set a goal of having the CEV enter service in 2012. However, funding cuts to cover ISS and shuttle operations, Hurricane Katrina repairs, and other issues, pushed the start date back to late 2014. After Lockheed Martin won the Orion contract last year, Griffin said they re-baselined the program and budgeted “to a 65-percent confidence level”. All of those factors pushed the start date back further, to March 2015. In other words, NASA had missed the end-2014 deadline for putting Orion in service before the final FY07 budget cut more money from the program. That budget caused a six-month delay, but Griffin said that this had been negated by terminating lower-priority programs, like the follow-on missions to LRO in the robotic lunar exploration program, moving the start date back to March 2015. This is a bit different from earlier testimony, such as before the Senate Commerce Committee’s space subcommittee, which suggested that the FY07 cut was the reason for missing the 2014 deadline. (One can argue that NASA would have still made the 2014 deadline had it received full funding in FY07 and made the cuts in other programs, but this makes it clear that the program was not in the best of fiscal health well before the 2007 budget was approved.)
Unfortunately, the major media accounts of the hearing opt for sensationalism over substance: the Washington Post and Houston Chronicle instead lead with comments by Griffin, in response to a question by Rep. Ken Calvert, that China might beat us (back) to the Moon. Because, of course, if the Chinese did somehow land humans on the Moon before the US returned, they would… uh, do something. Like steal all the Moon’s helium-3 for their fusion reactors. Yeah, that’s it.