NASA, White House

Transition turmoil

If you have not already read this Orlando Sentinel article about conflicts between NASA leadership and the Obama transition team please stop and read it right now. It’s a remarkable situation, from claims that NASA is “scripting” what employees and contractors tell the transition team to reports of a “heated” conversation between the head of the NASA transition team, Lori Garver, and NASA administrator Mike Griffin at a reception last week. (I heard separately about the Garver-Griffin discussion earlier this week, an account that matches up with what was published by the Sentinel.)

One thing is clear: while there had been some discussion about whether to keep Griffin in office for some period of time after Obama takes office (something that Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) had requested earlier this month, it now seems exceedingly unlikely that Griffin will be there after January 20, even if his replacement hasn’t been picked yet.

This report has also been picked up in some wider political journalism circles, including a post in The Washington Independent, which brings up another danger of this situation. “It sounds like NASA may be an obvious place for Peter Orszag, Obama’s designee to head the Office of Management and Budget, to look for multi-billion dollar boondoggles to trim from the federal budget,” writes Matthew DeLong.

Update 8 pm: Griffin has released a statement in response to the Sentinel report, calling it “simply wrong”. “We are fully cooperating with transition team members,” he said, adding that he was “appalled” of reports of intimidation of people slated to speak with the team. “The transition team’s work is too important to become mired in unsupported and anonymous allegations.”

Meanwhile, Chris Shank, chief of strategic communications at NASA, tells the Washington Post that neither he nor Griffin considered last Thursday’s conversation between Griffin and Garver to be “heated”. Shank: “He [Griffin] said to me this morning, ‘I sure didn’t think that was an argument. We were having a discussion about stuff.’ ” And as John Logsdon, who was present at the event, told the Post: “No voices were raised. No blows were struck.”

35 comments to Transition turmoil

  • Chance

    This Griffin fellow, he really knows how to win friends and influence people.

  • Lori Garver did an outstanding job crafting Clinton’s policy, as most space people agreed at the time. Likewise she clearly engaged in bringing those concepts into the space policy of the President Elect. Of all the agencies and transitions going on, it is very inappropriate that one person at NASA is not helping the country make a smooth transition of power. In this most harrowing of times for many Americans, and with many challenges in the global arena, we expect and deserve civility and professionalism. Of one thing I am sure, and that is that this embarrassment will not drive policy choices of the incoming Administration.

  • SpaceMan

    Chance Ms Garver is apparently no slouch in that arena either.

    Two strong egos clash. No news there.

  • Obama made a lot of promises in florida and I think he is going to try to keep them. I’m not always a good judge of humanity but I think he has a lot of integrety.

    Given that , it may be possible to keep the shuttle flying another 5 years or so, but I doubt it would fair well for Obama if he canceled constellation and there was another shuttle acident.

    I’m not a big fan of aries I/V and I too think it should be reviewed, I rather see some combination of shuttle dirived hardware, with a HLV based on the abandoned Aries IV.

    Constelation has to make too many compromises for Aries I, from tethered space walks to water landings… enough is enough.

    I think the transition team firmly understands that the space program as well as other areas of science are important to the prestige of the USA, but like they should be doing they want to look at ALL options for reaching that goal.
    Griffins a good director but he seems to fictated on the Aries I.

  • anonymous.space

    A handful of thoughts:

    1) No one is perfect and everyone has bad days. That said, these sorts of angry outbursts and very poorly thought out public comments have become par for the course with Griffin. Here’s references on Mr. Foust’s blog to a couple other recent incidents (add http://www):

    .spacepolitics.com/2008/09/07/griffins-frustration/
    .spacepolitics.com/2007/05/31/bad-timing/

    Whether it’s attributable an overriding ego, anger control issues, a lack of professionalism, a lack of political sensitivity, or a lack of just plain common sense, the repeated pattern of needlessly damaging statements that come out of Griffin’s mouth brings into question whether he should be leading or representing NASA (or any other large organization). Even if he was the perfect manager in every other respect (and he’s not, not by a long shot), one would have to think long and hard about keeping him on as NASA Administrator or hiring him into a lofty position at another organization, given equal or better candidates with at least a basic demonstrated ability to censor their worst comments.

    2) Maybe Griffin meant it as an offhand joke, but it’s just plain lazy and/or childish for the NASA Administrator to whine that the transition team is not talking to him, especially when the transition team has offices in the same building at NASA HQ. and are a secretary’s phone call or an elevator ride away from the Administrator’s suite. If Griffin felt he was being ignored, then he should have just asked the transition team for a meeting, not thrown a temper tantrum at a book signing event. And if Griffin couldn’t get a meeting or didn’t get satisfaction from the transition team members assigned to NASA, then he should have climbed the chain of command and called their bosses on the main Obama transition team. Their names are publicly known (add http://):

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presidential_transition_of_Barack_Obama#Transition_team

    3) There’s nothing wrong with requesting that NASA civil servants and contractors to stay on topic when talking to the transition team and to run their documentation past fact-checkers before handing it off to the transition team. This is common practice across the government during Presidential transitions, and it’s arguably good that the transition team gets a consistent message and factual information about the current state-of-play at an agency. But contractors should not be given a message, explicit or implied, that future business hangs in the balance if they do not tow the party line in all conversations with a transition team. By law, procurement selections have to be based on the criteria as written in the procurement, not unwritten, strong-arm threats. If there’s any real evidence that Griffin or other NASA representatives have been contacting company executives — telling them to support Constellation in conversations with the transition team, and avoid discussing alternatives, or else — then the IG needs to take at least a cursory look into the matter to ensure that the integrity of NASA’s procurement processes have not been compromised.

    4) Whether they originated with Griffin or not, Chris Shank’s comments about the transition team lacking technical expertise are way off-the-mark and demonstrate a deep misunderstanding of what transition teams do. Transition teams lack federal decisionmaking authority — they are neither political appointees nor civil servants. They are consultants, hired under a non-profit umbrella to collect information, organize briefing/reading materials, highlight issues, and (maybe) develop options for the actual Administration decisionmakers (including the new NASA Administrator) when they arrive. If the transition team’s job was to judge the technical merit of NASA’s various programs and determine technical solutions to those program’s various problems, the team would need a heckuva lot more members than the current five, covering a heckuva lot more areas of expertise than just those covered by Griffin’s degrees. Boiling down the top handful of issues for the new Administration at an agency with ten field centers, hundreds of programs/projects, 18,000+ civil servants, and a $17 billion budget requires experienced generalists, not deep technical specialists.

    5) Needless to say, the strategy that Shank’s group developed of telling the transition team that the new Administration could “re-brand” Constellation as their own with minor tweaks is about weakest lobbying strategy ever developed in the history of lobbying strategies. Woof…

    6) The argument in the materials produced by Shank’s group that changing course from Ares I would make NASA look bad is even weaker. Placing the agency’s image above serious treatment of real technical and programmatic issues is a dangerous misordering of priorities (of the kind that led to the Challenger accident).

    7) Griffin’s statement at the end of the Sentinel article that Garver is calling Griffin a “liar” merely by asking questions about Constellation is very disturbing. NASA’s technical and programmatic competence cannot rest on the shoulders of any one person, even the NASA Administrator, no matter what their credentials are. If, contrary to CAIB and ASAP recommendations, Griffin has been quashing legitimate questions about program status and options in this manner during his tenure, then Constellation, and maybe NASA’s other programs, are probably in much worse shape than what the GAO reports, CBO reports, and documents leaks have indicated. It may be a very ugly engine compartment awaiting the next NASA Administrator when they start looking under the hood.

    In summary, it’s the transition team’s job to ask questions, and Griffin should understand that and know better than to launch unprovoked, petulant attacks on them in a public setting. He, and more importantly NASA, need the transition team on NASA’s side. Griffin should be thankful that the NASA transition team is wholly composed of NASA boosters (most agencies are not so lucky), and work with the team in a transparent manner to develop the best possible set of materials and options for the new Administration. If Griffin is incapable of doing that, whatever the reason, then he should resign immediately. It doesn’t do Constellation, or NASA at large, any favors to have its Administrator engage in such uselessly childish behavior in view of the public eye, the new Administration, and the incoming Congress.

    FWIW…

  • Jack Burton

    Garver the “carver” is out to get budget meat for Obama.

    Griffin is fighting tooth and nail to save return to moon.

    Sad times.

    I fear for return to moon. I think it has been lost already, Team Obama is offering ZERO assurances.

  • Jack,
    The return to the moon was already lost even before Obama got elected. Griffin’s choices with ESAS and Constellation have more or less doomed it from the start.

    ~Jon

  • Unfortunately, this is hardly unique behavior on Dr. Griffin’s part. If any part of this is true, I agree he should not be NASA Administrator. He is living proof that, to be Administrator of NASA (or any large scientific and engineering organization), political skill is at least as important, and probably a lot more important, than engineering skill.

    – Donald

  • Al Fansome

    I have said it before, and I will say it again.

    The Administrator should be OUTWARD focused, and linking NASA to the needs and demands of the White House, Congress and the American public. James Webb was the ideal.

    The Deputy Administrator should be INWARD focused, taking the requirements from NASA’s bosses — the White House and Congress — and managing the agency to deliver on those requirements.

    The key here is that they need to be joined at the hip, on the same vision and plan.

    Under this distinction, assuming he was in synch with the Administrator, Griffin was very well suited to be the Deputy Administrator.

    As Administrator, he has been a disaster.

    I don’t blame Mike. He only did what knew how to do, and what he liked to do. Based on the real requirements for the job, he was not qualified. It is Peter’s principal.

    Hopefully, we have finally learned our lesson and will not put a “Chief Engineer” or (even worse) an “Astronaut-engineer” in charge of NASA ever again.

    FWIW,

    - Al

    “Politics is not rocket science, which is why rockets scientists do not understand politics.”

  • anonymous.space

    “Garver the “carver” is out to get budget meat for Obama.”

    Evidence?

    Per last week’s Space News, the transition team has submitted questions to NASA that ask about both cancelling and ACCELERATING Ares I/Orion. See (add http://www):

    .space.com/news/081202-obama-space-spending.html

    Unless someone possesses psychic abilities lacking in the rest of us, there’s no way to know which of those two options (or others) the new Administration will pursue. Based on the actions of the transition team to date, Constellation is as likely to see its budget boosted as reduced.

    “Griffin is fighting tooth and nail to save return to moon.”

    Per the Sentinel article, Griffin is fighting to save Constellation. There are other ways to return U.S. astronauts to the Moon than Constellation.

    “I fear for return to moon. I think it has been lost already, ”

    I would fear for it too given the very poor once-in-a-century fiscal environment that the federal budget now finds itself in. I would also fear for it given that Griffin failed to get any actual lunar hardware under development during his tenure. Given all the other fiscal challenges that the nation faces and the fact that there is no significant number of NASA jobs yet involved in Ares V/EDS/LSAM, it will be very easy and tempting for the Obama White House to defer or terminate those lunar-specific elements and pocket the savings.

    But I would not fear for it based on anything that the NASA transition team has said or done. In fact, the NASA transition team is remarkably composed of longtime NASA boosters — the former and current head of the National Space Society, two former heads of policy and plans at NASA, a former NASA spokesman, etc. If one was looking to cut NASA’s budget, these are not the type of individuals to put on the transition team.

    “Team Obama is offering ZERO assurances.”

    Actually, they have (add http://):

    obamanauts.org/obama-space-policy/

    Whether the Obama Administration follows through on the Obama campaign’s promises remains to be seen. But we shouldn’t pretend that “Team Obama” hasn’t put out assurances with regard to the future of the nation’s civil human space exploration efforts. (Heck, the Apollo Program even figured prominently in an Obama campaign TV commerical.)

    FWIW…

  • Doug Lassiter

    The Administrator should be OUTWARD focused, and linking NASA to the needs and demands of the White House, Congress and the American public. James Webb was the ideal.

    The Deputy Administrator should be INWARD focused, taking the requirements from NASA’s bosses — the White House and Congress — and managing the agency to deliver on those requirements.

    That’s a smart perspective. Had not thought about it before in that way, but it makes a lot of sense.

    In that respect, Shana Dale was well positioned as DA, with her insider understanding of the Congressional view on the agency, pointing inwards.

    Mike Griffin was not, as Administrator. But his failure in linking NASA to the needs and demands of the American public was certainly linked to the failure of the White House to grease the skids for him. NASA and space exploration completely dropped off the map of White House priorities. But even if the White House had remained committed to space, it’s not entirely clear to me that Griffin could make that linkage happen. He saw himself more as the engineer-in-charge of building the Vision, and less as the spokesperson for that Vision. For him, leadership was in architecture, and not in national priorities. I wonder if we would be calling him an excellent Administrator had the White House not thrown in the towel, or at least let it drag behind us.

    In this respect, Obama’s choice for Administrator will be especially revealing. Will it be a choice that presumes an active relationship with the White House, and a deep understanding of the way the public can be motivated and excited about space exploration, or will it be someone who can be sure to get the right screws in the right holes?

    Let’s hope that the Obama administration, instead of just trying to “save return to the Moon”, which is a highly artificial if not dubious goal, will save (or resurrect) a real national purpose for doing stuff in space.

  • [...] a good discussion in comments on this topic over at Space Politics. “Anonymous.Space” has good commentary as usual, [...]

  • MarkWhittington

    It looks like Griffin may have some very good reasons to be unhappy:

    http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com/news_space_thewritestuff/2008/12/griffin-says–1.html

    “In a meeting Tuesday with the Coalition for Space Exploration, a space advocacy group, Garver said that her team was “unhappy” with NASA’s plan – pushed by Griffin — to retire the space shuttle in 2010 “no matter what.” Griffin has said the shuttle must be grounded to free up money for Constellation if its Ares 1 rocket is to fly by 2015.

    “She also said that under NASA’s current plans the possibility for exploration beyond the Earth’s orbit seems unattainable at present, an industry executive who attended the meeting.

    “Garver didn’t say what options her group might recommend, such as more money to keep flying the shuttle or changing the rocket systems NASA is currently developing to go to the moon. However, she promised that “there is going to be change.””

    Or, cancelling VSE entirely, which is what I suspect she has in mind,

  • Al Fansome

    DOUG LASSITER: In that respect, Shana Dale was well positioned as DA, with her insider understanding of the Congressional view on the agency, pointing inwards.

    Doug,

    You need to complete the thought experiment. Think through all the implications of what would have happened if there had been a switch in positions by Shana and Mike. Think about what would have happened if Shana had been Administrator, and made the decisions on the overall strategy for implementation of the VSE, and Mike had been brought in later as Deputy Administrator to help her manage the agency to implement the plan.

    Shana had the qualifications and knowledge needed for the James Webb style Administrator. If she had been allowed to “set the implementation strategy” to address the requirements of the White House, she would have chosen a much different strategy than ESAS because she would have started with a different set of requirements. The objectives would have been different, and the measures of success would have been different.

    There were two set of requirements coming out of the White House that Mike Griffin intentionally ignored, which Shana Dale would have taken as first principals.

    First, Shana would have adopted many of the recommendations of the Aldridge Commission (her former boss Bob Walker was on the Commission, and the Commission was working for the White House where she worked). Griffin rejected the recommendations of the Aldridge Commission. Shana would have focused on “sustainability” and “affordability” as key criteria for any implementation strategy. Griffin ignored those guides.

    Second, her former boss, Dr. Marburger (head of the WH Office of Science and Technology Policy) was crystal clear on the WH requirements. He spoke out publicly on the subject two years in a row, just to make sure everybody understood. Marburger stated that all approaches to implementing the VSE should be judged on the BENEFITS they deliver in security, commerce and science.

    Griffin again totally ignored these top-down system requirements, and substituted his own requirements. Shana would have taken them as first principles, and she would have assessed all the options for implementing the VSE based on the assessed benefits to commerce, science and national security.

    DOUG LASSITER: Mike Griffin was not, as Administrator. But his failure in linking NASA to the needs and demands of the American public was certainly linked to the failure of the White House to grease the skids for him. NASA and space exploration completely dropped off the map of White House priorities.

    I don’t mean to be insulting, but this is making excuses. NASA needs to stop whining, stop making excuses, assume a tough budgetary environment, and then create a strategy based on these assumptions. For Griffin, or anybody at NASA, to assume that a floodgate of money would open up for NASA in a time of war and rapidly increasing deficits, is to ignore 30 years of budget history at NASA. It ignored what was taking place in the world, and was intellectually dishonest. The Aldridge Commission provided clear warning to NASA that they should not depend on budget growth — and that the plan needed be measured on both sustainability and affordability.

    DOUG LASSITER: But even if the White House had remained committed to space, it’s not entirely clear to me that Griffin could make that linkage happen.

    Again, you are making my point for me. Mike Griffin did not have the skills to make the linkage happen.

    Shana Dale had the skills and knowledge (whether she would have succeeded is a different question). She knows what our nation’s elected leaders want to buy. Unfortunately, the key to making the linkage happen required a different implementation strategy than ESAS. As Deputy, she was not authority to change Mike Griffin’s strategy in order to make that linkage.

    DOUG LASSITER: He saw himself more as the engineer-in-charge of building the Vision, and less as the spokesperson for that Vision. For him, leadership was in architecture, and not in national priorities.

    This is both true, and your focus on the need for a “spokesperson” misses part of my fundamental point.

    You can have the greatest spokesperson in the world, but if they do not LISTEN to what their boss wants, they will NOT be saying things that their boss wants to hear. So, they will be ignored.

    Shana knew what the boss wanted. Mike Griffin ignored the boss. He intentionally did not listen when his boss told him what they wanted, because it would have required him to change his implementation strategy.

    DOUG LASSITER: I wonder if we would be calling him an excellent Administrator had the White House not thrown in the towel, or at least let it drag behind us.

    Many of the design changes in Constellation, the schedule slips, changes in technologies, and technical problems were the result of Griffin’s chosen strategy. If the White House and Congress had given Griffin the funding originally projected when the VSE was announced, it would have reduced the projected gap a little, but it would not have come close to eliminating it. More money would not eliminate any of the fundamental problems encountered so far by ESAS.

    FWIW,

    - Al

    “Politics is not rocket science, which is why rocket scientists do not understand politics.”

  • Al Fansome

    WHITTINGTON: Or, cancelling VSE entirely, which is what I suspect she has in mind

    Mark,

    You like to talk like you know space policy, but you obviously don’t know anything about Lori Garver. You have been around for many years, but sometimes you are just a dunce.

    I will prove it.

    Lori has been a big supporter of the VSE.

    On the day that the VSE was announced Lori was on television promoting the VSE. Check out the Lehrer News Hour on January 14, 2004 where she debate Bob Parks.

    Relevant excerpts below.

    http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/science/jan-june04/moon_01-14.html

    LORI GARVER: I’m very enthused about the initiative. This is what we should be doing with our space program. The reason Mars is exciting when spirit land on it is because we believe we’re going further. The space program is about so much more than science. I absolutely agree, we’ve been a great space science through the robotic program. But it is because we’re going as a species that I think the public really can relate to this, and ultimately what has caused us a tremendous benefit.

    and

    LORI GARVER: … But again, it’s that inspiration that calls us to space, and by that it’s not going to be just robots.

    and

    LORI GARVER: I want my kids to have somebody who is more interesting to them. The first woman who goes to the moon — we’ve never sent any women to the moon — it’s got to be more interesting than whether or not Britney Spears got married this weekend.

    and

    LORI GARVER: To me, it’s definitely more than magic. I believe as humanity, as a species, we are going into space. We have explored this planet, we will continue to explore this planet and, for our very survival, we must also leave this planet. Ultimately, a lunar base as the president announced today is going to help us build new things, like a solar-powered satellite using lunar materials. That will potentially end our dependence on fossil fuels on this planet.

    You, and everybody else who is maligning her intentions, owe Lori an apology.

    FWIW,

    - Al

  • Mark: Or, cancelling VSE entirely, which is what I suspect she has in mind,

    If Al is wrong, and if this is true, what do you propose that a strong supporter of human spaceflight in a Democratic Administration might replace the VSE with? I’m genuinely curious.

    – Donald

  • Al Fansome

    DONALD: If Al is wrong, and if this is true,

    Donald,

    Since the facts I state are on public record it would be more accurate to say:

    “If Lori Garver has totally changed her stripes, changing who she has been for the last 20 years, and if this is true …”

    NOTE: Asking for Mark Whittington’s opinion about what a Democratic President will do while in office is like asking for Sarah Palin’s opinion.

    FWIW,

    - Al

  • [...] like her or not, that is lunacy. Let’s let Al Fansome do the heavy lifting in her support, in comments over at Space Politics in response to one of our favorite clueless space commentators: WHITTINGTON: Or, cancelling VSE [...]

  • Doug Lassiter

    DOUG LASSITER: In that respect, Shana Dale was well positioned as DA, with her insider understanding of the Congressional view on the agency, pointing inwards.

    You need to complete the thought experiment. Think through all the implications of what would have happened if there had been a switch in positions by Shana and Mike.

    Yes, I was certainly doing that in my head, but I was a little reluctant to commit. But I think you’re correct. The connection between Shana Dale and the Aldridge Commission, to say nothing of her connection with Marburger, really seals the deal. Yes, Shana would have at least answered the mail on NASA policy as set by the White House and Congress.

    DOUG LASSITER: Mike Griffin was not, as Administrator. But his failure in linking NASA to the needs and demands of the American public was certainly linked to the failure of the White House to grease the skids for him. NASA and space exploration completely dropped off the map of White House priorities.

    I don’t mean to be insulting, but this is making excuses.

    No, I don’t think being “linked” to the failure of the White House is making excuses of any kind. My point was that it was one reason for his failure. I agree that it may not have been the dominant reason for his failure to NASA. Now, it’s nice to just recommend that NASA pull up it’s boots, take a deep breath, and live responsibly in a tough budgetary environment, but that tough environment was precisely the result of the White House’s disassociation with the Vision after it was announced. I’m sure that Griffin was assured, when VSE was announced, that budget increases were on the way. He signed on to “go as you pay” because he figured the pay HAD to turn upward. I’m sure they left no traces of this, but I can’t believe that Mike signed on to a level-forever budget plan.

    You can have the greatest spokesperson in the world, but if they do not LISTEN to what their boss wants, they will NOT be saying things that their boss wants to hear. So, they will be ignored.

    No, sorry. The White House doesn’t get off that easily. If the White House was committed to a Vision, and their agency head wasn’t following that Vision, ignoring the whole effort isn’t a managerially sensible option. It’s a leadership copout. You’re saying that the White House turned away from VSE because their employee wasn’t doing the job he was hired to do. That’s absurd. But yes, Mike certainly ignored his orders because they weren’t consistent with his preconceptions of what the Vision was about.

    Oh, and your characterization of Lori’s views is dead on. Would she cancel VSE entirely? Well, it depends on who’s VSE you’re talking about. I wouldn’t doubt that a VSE that has us colonizing the Moon doesn’t sit very high in her view. Then again, that wasn’t the Presidential directive.

  • I wouldn’t doubt that a VSE that has us colonizing the Moon doesn’t sit very high in her view.

    I suspect that it does indeed sit very high in her view. What is the source of your doubt?

  • Ben the Space Brit

    This is a difficult situation to judge, as all situation where there are such charged opinions (and I have to plead ‘guilty’ in my own attitudes on this matter). However, in the end, the thing that I believe should be the central question that NASA has to deal with is this: How do we minimise the gap in a sustainable way?

    I’ll expand:

    The Shuttle is now approaching the end of its lifespan. A lot of hard work, money and juggling of the flight manifest might buy NASA a few more years but, in the end, retirement is upon it and cannot be avoided. In this situation, NASA now has to look to the future. What should the shuttle be replaced by?

    To a large degree, the tool is, of course, determined by the task. The Shuttle (apart from some safety issues now abundantly clear in hindsight) meets its design objectives fairly well. However, the problem was that to go beyond a certain level (operations in LEO) required that a lot of money be spent in developing other vehicles. Thus, whilst the Shuttle was good at its job, it had very little expandability in terms of manned operations beyond LEO (again, this is without huge expenditure on specialised beyond-LEO vehicles).

    The VSE is a very vague document in some ways but in others gives a good idea of what politicians would like to see as being NASA’s long-term objectives. Specifically, they would like to see NASA heading beyond LEO again. The Moon is a very tempting target being fairly nearby. However, its biggest advantage is also its biggest political drawback: We’ve already done it. I think that is the real political reason we have proposals for NEO and Mars missions at this stage.

    However, in all fairness, there is no reason why those objectives should not be pursued as part of a manned spaceflight strategy (this leaving aside the robot vs. manned exploration debate). It is really only a matter of will and available capability.

    Personally, I feel that the real guide that NASA should gain from VSE as to developing a new generation of space vehicle is that it should have the capability to carry out those missions as soon as the political will, funding and the necessary specialised peripherals become available.

    So, I am saying that we need two basic guidelines for the Shuttle replacement and that the replacement ought to be the best balance between these two objectives:

    1) Minimum spaceflight gap between Shuttle and new vehicle;

    2) Maximum mission flexibility with appropriate specialised mission pods.

    Is Orion suitable to these needs? Potentially. Whether it is an optimum solution, I will leave to those with more knowledge of such matters. However, the big problem with the Ares archetecture is this lop-sided ‘crew only/cargo only’ concept that is a serious misunderstanding of CAIB. As matters stand, Orion is a very limited spacecraft that can only do an extremely narrow group of missions until a whole different launcher (the Ares-5) comes on-stream to deliver mission-specific modules into orbit. The ISS increases the number of missions available to the Orion/Ares-1 system but still leaves several empty slots.

    It is this limit that I think might be increasingly worrying the Transition Team. In essence, NASA is putting an enormous amount of money and effort into developing a vehicle that does less than the Shuttle at potentially greater risk. Furthermore, the technical problems associated with the Ares-1 design (the overall merits of the design aside) mean that you will be getting less, at great cost and only after a lengthy delay.

    Politicans are rarely long-sighted and I find it difficult to believe that the Obama administration will be in favour of enormous expenditure for a project that may not see any tangible results during his term of office.

    It is, I think, for this reason that I suspect the President-Elect has requested that Ms. Garver look very carefully at NASA’s figures and assumptions. Before he commits himself to this concept, he wants to be very sure that there is not a better option that he can use to deliver better results more quickly as well as to gain political advantage (always a factor no matter how benevolent and honest the politician).

    Whilst I understand Dr. Griffin’s rage – the Ares system is very much his personal baby and no one likes to see their brainchild threatened – he must be careful. Politicans are notoriously fickle and easy to provoke. Failure to deal with this situation reasonably might provoke Ms. Garver to recommend cutting the project out of spite or, more likely, because she believes Dr. Griffin’s behaviour is proof that the worst negative rumours surrounding Ares-1 have basis in reality and that NASA is attempting to cover this up.

    In conclusion, I would add that the debate as to whether the Ares archetecture is the optimum solution (or indeed even a viable solution) for NASA’s future requirements is actually central to this whole issue. However, I do not believe that this is a question that will be answered based on engineering reality but by perceptions. If NASA cannot show why Ares-1 is a better choice than its competitors in layman’s terms then it is probably inevitable that January 21st will show a change of direction.

  • Al Fansome

    FANSOME: You can have the greatest spokesperson in the world, but if they do not LISTEN to what their boss wants, they will NOT be saying things that their boss wants to hear. So, they will be ignored.

    LASSITER: No, sorry. The White House doesn’t get off that easily. If the White House was committed to a Vision, and their agency head wasn’t following that Vision, ignoring the whole effort isn’t a managerially sensible option. It’s a leadership copout.

    This is a different issue, but I agree that the White House has some real responsibility here. The White House did not pick somebody that would implement the recommendations of the Aldridge Comssion. Instead, they picked somebody who disagreed. Dr. Marburger stated a clear, conscise set of principles to measure any plan with (by how much it actually delivers in commerce, science, and security) but did not then require the NASA Administrator to show how his ESAS plan maximized those benefits. When Dr. Marburger was informed of the ESAS study, he should have demanded that they evaluate all options for implementation against his stated requirements. But he did not, as the ESAS did not assess them.

    At some point the White House if the White House thought the VSE was a priority, they would have either managed Griffin, or fired him. The fact they did not shows how low in priority that the VSE was in the scheme of things.

    When the White House cares, they direct a change, or change management. The Bush White House changed Secretary of Defense, State, and Treasury because those organizations were high priorities.

    But NASA was not a priority. It has not been a high priority since Apollo.

    But my original point still stands. A NASA Administrator who ignores the requirements of the people who hired him will make the given situation even worse. He (and maybe some day “she”) will take a low priority agency, and turn it into an ignored agency.

    LASSITER: You’re saying that the White House turned away from VSE because their employee wasn’t doing the job he was hired to do. That’s absurd.

    No. I am saying that they turned away from supporting NASA at the level they promised because NASA did not create an implementation plan that addressed the real objectives of the VSE.

    LASSITER: But yes, Mike certainly ignored his orders because they weren’t consistent with his preconceptions of what the Vision was about.

    I am not sure it was that cut and dried. This requires a more detailed answer to deal with an issue that is complex.

    The WH knew “what” they wanted to achieve — the VSE statement is pretty clear — but it appears (to me) that they did not have a good feel on “how” to proceed to get what they wanted. Thus, I am guessing that the first very smart credible person with a believable plan who knocked on their door got the job.

    Obviously, the WH hoped that the person they hired would listen to their requirements, and choose the best among the many options to give the WH “what” the WH wanted. By deciding to hire the smartest person they could find with a believable plan, they hoped the very smart employee would figure out how to give them what they wanted.

    The WH did not realize that the very smart employee had his own agenda. They could never figure out why what their smart employee wanted to do was never quite satisfactory. When they finally realized they had real problem, it emerged mostly as a technical problem, and they realized they had to argue to senior WH staff that their technical judgement was better than their very smart employee’s technical judgement — not a good position to be in. Plus, it was becoming too late to convince the President to make a change, unless the problem was obvious and eggregious. By then the President was embroiled in an extremely unpopular war, with all of his attention on trying to fix the situation, and could not be bothered with the fact that the NASA employee was off on his own agenda for an agency that was not a high priority.

    Thus, the options of the part of the WH that cared about space were mostly gone. Their employee did not listen to their requirements. They could not fire them. And when it came time to fight hard for the annual budget increase for the employee’s budget, they could not be bothered.

    That is my interpretation, based on what I know (which is admittedly limited) of how we ended up with this situation. (Others, such as anonymous.space will be much more informed on this subject, and I will gladly defer to their assessment.)

    FWIW,

    - Al

    “Politics is not rocket science, which is why rocket scientists do not understand politics.”

  • That seems about right to me, Al. Space isn’t very important. Once the White House hired Griffin, they assumed that they could ignore the issue and focus on what was.

  • MarkWhittington

    “You like to talk like you know space policy, but you obviously don’t know anything about Lori Garver. You have been around for many years, but sometimes you are just a dunce.”

    A fine argument indeed. I can only observe that Lori, while talking a good game about space, has had a rather dubious record supporting it when in positions of power. Remember that abrupt flip flop on VSE when she became Kerry’s space advisor.

    Donald – If I’m right, then I suspect some money will be siphoned off for social programs, the rest paying to extend to shuttle and to fatten the Earth science, space science, and aeronautics accounts. The upshot is that Americans will be stuck in LEO for a while longer.

  • Doug Lassiter

    When the White House cares, they direct a change, or change management. The Bush White House changed Secretary of Defense, State, and Treasury because those organizations were high priorities.

    But NASA was not a priority. It has not been a high priority since Apollo.

    Which is precisely my point about a leadership copout. I think we agree here, but I’m calling it a copout, and you’re calling it a “low priority”. You know, a “low priority” doesn’t merit a Vision as a Presidential directive. Yes, the White House had to respond in a credible way to the strategic planning criticisms from the CAIB report, but I think we all misinterpreted that Vision response as some level of priority. If an early Orion flight ends up tragically, I can predict that many of the very same strategic planning criticisms would rear their ugly heads.

    At some point if the White House thought the VSE was a priority, they would have either managed Griffin, or fired him.

    Right again. Copout anyone? Given a program that is based on either a White House copout or a low priority, why is anyone fussing over whether Lori pulls the plug on it? Sustainability of a copout or a low priority is a thin advantage to a program, if any.

    The WH did not realize that the very smart employee had his own agenda. They could never figure out why what their smart employee wanted to do was never quite satisfactory. When they finally realized they had real problem, it emerged mostly as a technical problem, and they realized they had to argue to senior WH staff that their technical judgement was better than their very smart employee’s technical judgement — not a good position to be in.

    Spot on.

    Lori’s priorities have always been focused on science and inspiration. Wherever do you get the idea, Rand, that Lori wants to get us fiscally and programmatically stuck at a lunar outpost? The first time you go to the outpost and pour some concrete, you can call it exploration and be inspired. But probably not the second time, or the twentieth. By the time you’re at twenty, BTW, you can call it colonization. And you aren’t doing a helluva lot more science by then. It is well understood that an outpost deployment offers far less science compared to sorties.

  • Wherever do you get the idea, Rand, that Lori wants to get us fiscally and programmatically stuck at a lunar outpost?

    Wherever do you get the idea that I have that idea?

    The first time you go to the outpost and pour some concrete, you can call it exploration and be inspired. But probably not the second time, or the twentieth. By the time you’re at twenty, BTW, you can call it colonization. And you aren’t doing a helluva lot more science by then. It is well understood that an outpost deployment offers far less science compared to sorties.

    What does science have to do with anything?

  • anonymous.space

    “I can only observe that Lori, while talking a good game about space,”

    You have to be kidding. Garver obtained private sponsorship, got her medical certification, and undertook astronaut training in Russia for a Soyuz trip to ISS. She’s served as civil space policy advisor to not one, not two, but now three Presidential campaigns. She rose to the position of NASA’s Associate Administrator for Policy and Plans, in the top 20 or so management position in the agency. She was Executive Director of the National Space Society, the nation’s largest space advocacy organization, for years. Garver has repeatedly committed her career and more to NASA, human space flight, and commercial space flight activities. To say that Garver only talks a good game about space is either a bald-faced lie or a totally uninformed statement. Garver’s bio is available here (add http://www.):

    aiaa.org/events/insideaerospace/Garver.pdf

    We may not agree with Garver’s political alignment, but that doesn’t give us an excuse to be lazy with our research or to make up lies about her background.

    “has had a rather dubious record supporting it when in positions of power. Remember that abrupt flip flop on VSE when she became Kerry’s space advisor.”

    This is either another intentional distortion of the actual facts or another poorly informed statement.

    The Kerry campaign did not oppose the VSE. The Kerry campaign criticized the budget of and funding for the VSE, arguing that the Bush Administration was not committing enough resources to the effort. The Kerry/Edwards space policy document specifically stated:

    “Unfortunately, the Bush administration has undermined America’s efforts to move forward on space and the next generation of innovative ideas. The record budget deficits created by the Bush administration over the past four years will short change NASA and other research funding. The Bush administration’s push for the Moon/Mars mission is designed as a purely political stunt, without being backed up by the necessary funding.”

    The document went on to encourage greater international participation in the VSE:

    “… Ensuring that space exploration is a global undertaking that unites all nations in the common quest for greater understanding. Yet the Bush administration is applying its unilateralist approach to the Moon and Mars as well as to this planet, and has excluded potential partners from its exploration planning. John Kerry will invite other countries to share in a meaningful way in both the adventure and the costs of space exploration.”

    The Kerry campaign argued that the VSE needed to be properly funded and that the resulting programs needed international partnerships. And the Kerry campaign was right — the VSE has not been fully funded and the Constellation still lacks any international agreement support.

    To the extent these arguments originated with Garver, then her “flip-flop” was for greater funding and support of the VSE, not less. We should give her credit for that and for being right over the long-run about VSE funding shortfalls and lack of international participation.

    I apologize for the high-horse act, but in the future, please don’t add posts to this forum that intentionally contain multiple untruths, especially about individuals. This forum is a platform for space policy debate, not personal smears. And if you’re making these posts unintentionally, then please perform a minimum amount of research to ensure that the statements you’re making here have some semblance of reality. It’s a waste of everyone else’s time on the forum to have to constantly correct them. And if you can’t do either, then please take it elsewhere. It’s getting tiresome.

    Thank you…

  • anonymous.space

    “That is my interpretation, based on what I know (which is admittedly limited) of how we ended up with this situation. (Others, such as anonymous.space will be much more informed on this subject, and I will gladly defer to their assessment.)”

    I don’t have any special insight into the selection process (candidates, criteria, etc.) that led to the Bush Administration’s nomination of Griffin for the position of NASA Administrator. O’Keefe had a large degree of autonomy in setting NASA’s agenda due to his close connections to VP Cheney and various appropriators in Congress. I can only guess that the White House in general, and maybe OSTP and Marburger in particular, wanted to appoint someone who would be more beholden to them than O’Keefe. Griffin’s lack of political power certainly fits the bill, and that may have been a factor in his selection.

    But absent a major event that required White House intervention, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there was anything at the White House level that could prevent Griffin from implementing the VSE as he saw fit. Once Marburger and others bought into Griffin publicly, it would have taken a lot to get them to remove Griffin — he was their guy, after all. For example, it took a $5 billion overrun on the ISS program for the Bush Administration to remove George Abbey as JSC Center Director. For all his failings, nothing of that magnitude has happened yet due to Griffin’s tenure. Griffin made climate change comments that embarrassed Marburger and the White House and has made choices in the Constellation program that are not consistent with Marburger’s AAS speeches about the economic development of the Moon. But nothing has happened that would require the White House to intervene in the way it did with Abbey and the $5 billion ISS overrun.

    If the Bush Administration was still around to witness an Ares I-X or I-Y test failure, unsustainable Constellation budget growth, or an Ares I/Orion schedule slip to 2017+, then they’d be compelled to intervene. But those kinds of events are going to fall on the Obama Administration’s watch, assuming they don’t switch tracks off Ares I early on.

    I do know at the staff level that there were attempts to oppose Ares I as an unnecessary detour from the VSE given the existence of operational EELVs. But unless the political appointees like Marburger that those staff report to are compelled to intervene, there’s only so much that OMB, OSTP, and other White House staff can do.

    FWIW…

  • Doug Lassiter

    <Griffin’s lack of political power certainly fits the bill, and that may have been a factor in his selection.
    But Griffin’s lack of political acumen and policy wisdom is what the administration is paying for right now. His “argument” with Lori was probably not quite that, though the press is having a field day over it. Rather it was just the lack of a political filter between his mind and his mouth.

    Once Marburger and others bought into Griffin publicly, it would have taken a lot to get them to remove Griffin — he was their guy, after all.

    Yes, that could explain a lot. The administration did cop out on VSE, and didn’t stand behind their own Vision as Griffin proceeded to restate it, but they were caught in a trap of their own making. Of course without political power his removal would not have been all that difficult.
    .
    .
    .
    and allow me to clean this up …

    LASSITER: Wherever do you get the idea, Rand, that Lori wants to get us fiscally and programmatically stuck at a lunar outpost?

    SIMBERG: Wherever do you get the idea that I have that idea?

    You said that you suspected that colonizing the Moon does indeed sit high in her view. I don’t. I associate lunar outposts with colonization. Maybe you don’t. That’s where I got the idea. Perhaps you consider a lunar outpost as not fiscal and programmatic quicksand. There we simply disagree.

    SIMBERG: What does science have to do with anything?

    It quite likely doesn’t have a lot to do with you, but it has to do with our discussion of Lori Garver, because I said “Lori’s priorities have always been focused on science and inspiration.” I was referring to that statement. You can argue with that statement, but more generally whether science has anything to do with anything is OT, and kinda pointless anyway.

  • LASSITER: Wherever do you get the idea, Rand, that Lori wants to get us fiscally and programmatically stuck at a lunar outpost?

    SIMBERG: Wherever do you get the idea that I have that idea?

    You said that you suspected that colonizing the Moon does indeed sit high in her view. I don’t.

    I do. Based on nothing, of course, other than many discussions of the subject with her over the last twenty or so years.

    I associate lunar outposts with colonization. Maybe you don’t. That’s where I got the idea. Perhaps you consider a lunar outpost as not fiscal and programmatic quicksand. There we simply disagree.

    Apparently we do.

  • Doug Lassiter

    Based on nothing, of course, other than many discussions of the subject with her over the last twenty or so years.

    This would be an good opportunity to share insights from those many discussions on Moon colonization you say you’ve had with her. I can believe such words from her in a pie-in-the-sky context, but not in a policy planning context. I think we all believe we should eventually colonize the galaxy, but throwing some pressure vessels at a lunar polar outpost isn’t necessarily an optimal way of doing that.

  • Without elaborating on just what you mean by “colonization,” I’m not sure how to do that. All I know is that she has never been opposed to a lunar base, and considers it a worthwhile endeavor, even in a “policy planning context” (whatever that means).

  • Doug Lassiter

    I’m not opposed to a lunar base, nor am I opposed to a Mercury base. (Nor am I opposed to making cherry pies at those bases.) The issue is what makes policy sense in a particular budgetary and political environment and, to wit, what makes sense for the American public. As a member of the transition team for NASA, that’s what Lori Garver is trying to understand.

  • I think that Lori understands that we need a lunar base, but more importantly we need a cost-effective way to build and support one, which is not offered by Mike’s plans.

  • [...] is not the first time in recent weeks that Horowitz has come to the defense of Griffin. After reports of a “heated” exchange between Griffin and transition team leader Lori Garver were published earlier this month, defended Griffin in an interview with Time, calling claims that [...]

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