At the end of an interview with CBS News’ Bill Harwood, NASA administrator made some interesting comments regarding recent criticism of the Ares 1 launch vehicle, such as the potential thrust oscillation problem with the vehicle’s first stage:
Q: On a different topic, the Ares rocket and the Constellation program continue to generate questions among outside observers as to viability of the rocket system, due to vibration and other issues, and the overall architecture of the moon program. Why is that?
A: Let me get down to the bottom of it. There were winners and losers in the contractor community as to who was going to get to do what on the next system post shuttle. And we didn’t pick (Lockheed Martin’s) Atlas 5, in consultation with the Air Force for that matter, because it wasn’t the right vehicle for the lunar job. Obviously, we did pick others. So people who didn’t get picked see an opportunity to throw the issue into controversy and maybe have it come out their way.
I think you have been around long enough to know technically this is just not a big deal. It’s about winners and losers. In the larger context, it’s about winners and losers and people seeing an opportunity to reclaim a share of the pie that was lost. And I hate it when it comes to that. But that’s it. The fact of the matter is, Ares, the rocket, and Constellation, the program, are designed to go to the moon and to provide a capability, if necessary, to service the space station in Earth orbit.
The Atlas 5 needs substantial upgrades in order to be a useful part of the lunar architecture and those upgrades, when we added them all up, cost more than the Ares 1. It’s that simple. Now if you just want to go to low-Earth orbit and nowhere else, then the Atlas 5 will do just fine. And I encourage its use for that. What I don’t encourage is for people to say that going to low-Earth orbit and stopping there again is a good goal. That’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to get back to the moon and we want to go on to Mars. And that needs something bigger.
Those comments seem to suggest that Griffin believes that Lockheed Martin (or now, more accurately, ULA, since Lockheed and Boeing have combined their EELV lines into that joint venture) is behind the criticism of Ares 1. While I know there are people at ULA who believe that Atlas 5 could carry out the role of launching Orion, it seems a bit of a stretch to think that they’re the only critics of the current architecture.