Congress, NASA

Griffin sounds off

Next Tuesday’s scheduled hearing about the Augustine committee report by the House Science and Technology committee took an interesting turn yesterday. Originally the two scheduled witnesses were committee chairman Norm Augustine and NASA admininstrator Charlie Bolden. However, Bolden is no longer scheduled to testify; according to the Orlando Sentinel, Bolden was replaced because the White House hasn’t taken a position yet on the contents of the Augustine comittee’s summary report, published Tuesday.

Bolden has been replaced by two people. One is Joe Dyer, a retired Navy vice admiral who currently serves as the chairman of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, a group that Bolden previously served on. The other, though, is far more interesting: former NASA administrator Mike Griffin. Back in June Griffin expressed some opinions about the Augustine review, saying it wasn’t necessary, in his opinion, from a technical standpoint but “does seem to be necessary if we are going to quiet some of the criticism of what NASA is doing, and if we are going to get the new administration on board.” At the time he also thought that the review, and later decisions by the administration, wouldn’t result in major changes to Constellation. In a late-July letter to Augustine, around the time the committee held a public hearing in Griffin’s new home of Huntsville, Griffin claimed that Constellation was the target of “broad but shallow criticism” and that while the committee needed to present options (rather than recommendations), “what you conclude about the relative merits of those options will matter.”

What makes this all the more interesting is a memo emailed by Griffin to “friends and supporters” that since leaked to the media (available in Word 2007 format from the Sentinel or HTML from The memo contains 11 items commenting and sometimes criticizing the committee’s summary report. He agrees that the US human spaceflight program “appears to be on an unsustainable trajectory”, to quote the first line of the report, but is puzzled why the committee, not finding “any evidence of substandard execution”, didn’t simply recommend restoring the funding needed to implement it. (Of course, one challenge the committee faced was its initial direction to stay within the administration’s planned budget profile; they had to “cheat” somewhat to include options that included an additional $3 billion a year.)

Elsewhere he criticizes various aspects of the report, from its use of independent but “low-fidelity” cost estimates that are considered as corrections to NASA’s estimates that “have years of effort behind them” to citing “technical problems” with the Ares 1 (which has such problems, he said, “because actual work is being accomplished, whereas other options have no problems because no work is being done”) to even the inclusion of propellant depots in the report, which Griffin calls “a solution in search of a problem.” Interestingly, despite initiating and supporting COTS, he was sharply critical of the report’s suggestion that cargo and crew transportation to LEO be turned over to the commercial sector. “What commercial sector?” he asks at one point, claiming that the only “clearly available ‘commercial'” vehicle is the Ariane 5. “With an appropriately enlightened USG policy there may one day be a domestic commercial space transportation sector, but it does not presently exist and will not exist in the near future; i.e., substantially prior to the likely completion dates for Ares-1/Orion, if they were properly funded.”

That comment alone should make next Tuesday’s hearing interesting.

25 comments to Griffin sounds off

  • Mark R. Whittington

    I find that interesting that a number of people on other sites are yelling for Griffin to just shut up and go away. That seems to suggest a little bit of fear in certain quarters. I suspect Griffin’s upcoming testimony is part of a push back against the drive to junk the current exploration plan in favor of whatever. I hope the hearings are televised somewhere, because they are going to be entertaining.

  • Robert Oler

    Mark. Mike Griffin should just shut up and go away because in almost every instance of his past performance he has been 1) wrong, 2) very wrong and 3) not very innovative. He continues that trait in some recent public statements.

    Some examples

    1. Low Fidelity cost estimates. Name a single human spaceflight program that NASA has come anywhere near close to meeting its budget estimates.

    OK lets widen the scope…Name a single over 1/2 billion dollar program that NASA has come to meeting its budget estimates?

    even if NASA was given the 3 billion more per year…experience says that in about two years or so, it wont be enough.

    2. No commercial alternatives. OK “Mike” has probably not kept up with the progress at SpaceX…but at one point he was aware of the Delta and Atlas launch vehicles which are “commercial vehicles” or are so more or less. Mike calls Ariane a commercial vehicle and if that is the case then the EELV’s more then meet that statement.

    I am a little more picky, to me commercial is more like SpaceX…but

    3. Technical problems. This relates to number 1. All programs have them , SpaceX has as well..but it is absurd to think that NASA will stay on budget (where it has far outspent say SpaceX development) when it really has no flight hardware yet to evaluate.

    Lets see if Ares 1-X shakes itself to death (or would have done that to any “astronauts” who might have been on board.

    Griffin came up with the most idiotic non imaginative program to return to the Moon that could have been imagined…it was simply “lets redo Apollo”. It is about like the USAF wanting to build F-22’s forever…and at least someone has had the good sense to stop that.

    Televised hearings…yeah thats the ticket. There will be this hugh ground swell of people who will say “Wow yes lets redo Apollo”.

    Not so much

    this is what I wrote on Sept 21 2004 on this board about the VSE

    “I’ll make a prediction. At the end of two years (the Congressional mid terms) there will be zero progress toward anything exploration and NASA wont have bought any product of significance from commercial companies.”

    see I was correct.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Anonymous


    Part of the question about having Dr. Griffin testify, is that it is generally considered a bad idea/precedent to have a former position holder make public statements that could be seen to directly criticize the current office-holder or undermine their authority.

    While there is always a little bit of kvetching between the old-timers and newcomers, elevating kvetching on the side to Congressional testimony may not be a great idea.

    As far as televising the hearings go, I believe they will be picked up by C-SPAN and should also be webcast. If nothing else, the transcripts should be available at some point.

  • anonymous

    When Von Braun’s preferred approach of “tanker mode” in LEO was abandoned, he knew his dream of reaching Mars had ended. He fought but, in the end, he lost. Had he gone on the war path, publicly criticizing the program, and telling Congress that they should do it his way or not at all, we’d likely never have gotten to the Moon at all. But of course he did not.

    To have Griffin, who made every important decision in secret and resisted any attempt to expose the truth behind what he had done, bashing the Augustine commission for their conclusions, reached in public, is a despicable act. He is responsible for the fix NASA finds itself in, and his actions will only result in tarnishing the work of the good people at the agency he thankfully no longer heads.

  • Doug Lassiter

    Congressional testimony is just about getting things on the record. So since the Administration won’t have a response to the Augustine report in time for the hearing, and since it can be presumed that another hearing will follow once it does (perhaps in the FY11 budget submission), getting some informed outside opinion on the record isn’t a bad thing.

    As to suspecting this is a “push back” against the drive to junk Constellation … d’oh! They’re being pretty sneaky about it, aren’t they?

    But what Griffin can say with considerable authority is that from an agency perspective, the present plan was badly underfunded. He couldn’t say it before, but he sure can say it now! If House Science is trying to stoke up the case for a NASA budget increase, they need to have someone with deep agency perspective saying that on the record. Bolden sure can’t say it. Hanley and his crew aren’t going to say it. Horowitz is so ethically challenged that even safely out of NASA he can’t say it either.

    Yes, Griffin should just shut up and go away, but this is just a swan song. The fact that he was given the opportunity to testify in this way and be formally heard leaves him little else to do than just sit and gnash his teeth. It certainly does provide the administration with a lot of insight into how the report will be received, and I suspect their response will be carefully crafted to marginalize any such criticisms if they come up.

    In a face-off between Mike Griffin and Norm Augustine, I think I know which one of them is going to come out looking more astute in a congressional setting.

    By the way, House Science usually webcasts its hearings, and this one appears to be scheduled for such a webcast.

  • Robert Oler

    It is interesting with the above to see who of the contractors are starting to “jump” ship…ATK has no options there really is nothing that they can contribute… other then big solids…but one gets the sense that the political shop at Boeing and Lockmart have figured out that “the vision” is dimming

    Robert G. Oler

  • Robert Oler

    a good read…what I was referencing earlier

    Robert G. Oler

  • Robert Oler

    I would urge everyone to read and ponder Jim Oberg’s piece that is linked above.

    It is well written, well thought out and is a plausible path for the US to get its government run space program “act” together after 40 years of stammering from one failure or semi success to another.

    NASA desperatly needs to get out of the same old act it has pursued since Apollo..going back to the Moon or going to Mars doesnt do that…and getting out of that “act” is more important then anything else.

    Gates (SecDef) recently in a speech noted that as important as acquiring the correct weapon systems was…it was as or more important that somehow the decades long acquisition cycle be broken. This is true as well at NASA…and Oberg’s plan is a plausible vehicle.

    Plus it has some good things to do in spaceflight.

    It is a win win. The politics of it are tricky (as he notes) but it is something that should be given a fair read.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Kris Ringwood

    Of course “Mike” is entitled to his opinion as a private citizen. However reading between the lines, what he opines is largely self-serving and justifying drivel: with one caveat. He and his fellow top brass of the Horowitz ilk, climbed into bed with ATK who basically produced the ARES I/V LV architecture and sold it to Griffin and co. Then, guess who Horowitz and others went to work for; no prizes.

    However, once all competitors were out of the loop, NASA engineering staff realized neither the original “Stick”/CLV nor CaLV as configured and pushed HARD by ATK were not up to the job. As it was that proposal exceeded the scope of VSE; which essentially intended use of existing launch architecture and hardware to reduce the cost of a exo-LEO manned space program in the best way.

    Launch Vehicle design, construction and operations are the most expensive component of Space missions. A brief glance of the “Aerospace Company’s” cost analysis for Augustine illustrates that clearly.
    Consequently any efforts made to reduce those costs are highly beneficial as the Russians learned during their financial doldrums incorporating the virtually collapse of the Soviet Space progam.

    The Soyuz booster is still operational, upgradable etc after 50+ years and 2000+ launches. The Soyuz/Progress spacecraft is still operational after 40+ years, and after 2010/11 will be AMERICAN Astronauts’ only access way to space for at least 5 years! What have they done right that we haven’t?

    In Griffin and his rapidly(thank God!) diminishing team we have people that have done American a disservice in first recommending, then insisting upon a course that even had the “Meltdown”/New U.S Administration not occured, would still have led to the dog’s dinner we have today in U.S Manned Space. All quite unnecessary, since NASA already had the solution in their series of previous studies, which was taken up by the DIRECT team. Had had it been implemented from the get-go, NASA would be on course to a smooth Shuttle – VSE transition within the current NASA budget I’m willing to bet.

    On the other hand, that caveat I mentioned – and is the only part of Griffin’s diatribe I agree with – the budgetary shortfalls brought about by problem such as post Columbia modification etc have exacerbated the $3B per annum budgetary shortfall for the next 4 years – which come at a critical stage in VSE devlopment. This would also affect NASA had they been sensible and gone with the original proposals that led to DIRECT in the first place.
    I think we’re well shot of Griffin and his ilk: they’ve almost done for American Manned Space by setting us on course for full-scale cancellation…

  • Here, here, Mike Griffin. Well spoken!

    I am sure all of the blue ribbon people on the Augustine panel are nice, but it doesn’t take a PhD in Aerospace Engineering to realize that they have absolutely no aspirations beyond LEO.

  • We need a Moon base! That’s the key to everything!

    A permanently manned lunar facility will quickly tell us whether or not humans and other animals can survive and reproduce under a 1/6 hypogravity environment. And if we can, then we’ll pretty much know for certain that humans can remain healthy under the larger hypogravity environment of Mars.

    A lunar mass driver will enable us to cheaply transport lunar regolith into lunar orbit to provide the hundreds of tonnes of mass shielding required to protect space stations and manned interplanetary vehicles destined for Mars or the asteroids from deleterious solar and galactic radiation. Mass driver regolith could also be used for the production of oxygen for fuel and air for space stations and space vehicles.

    Lunar manufactured aluminum transported by mass drivers into orbit could be used to manufacture interplanetary light sails that could transport hundreds and even thousands of tonnes of payload rapidly throughout the solar system. Aluminum could also be used with oxygen for rocket fuel for reusable translunar transport vehicles.

    A permanent base on the Moon would be a mecca for the emerging space tourist industry and the gateway to the rest of the solar system!

    We need to raise the NASA budget by $3 billion annually and chose NASA’s much cheaper plan B option (the Sidemount-HLV) and get on with the business of pioneering and colonizing the rest of the solar system!

  • Doug Lassiter

    The wild handwaving about the importance of the Moon (why we should go there to reproduce and manufacture and drive mass) associated with the need for a $3B bumpup of NASA funding (how we do it) is ludicrous. One doesn’t have anything to do with the other. $3B/yr ain’t gonna get you any pioneering and colonization of the solar system.

    But the perspective of Jim Oberg on “flexible path” is indeed worth reading, if just that he’s not just posing it as an engineering path, but as one that can engage and interest the taxpayer in a sustainable way. The Augustine panel sees this as a realizable way out of LEO and, I guess Jim Oberg, by reaching out to the public in this way, understands that the public can as well. Nope, it doesn’t take a PhD in engineering to see that.

  • Oberg’s concepts are pretty much impossible for manned space flight beyond the Moon unless you can cheaply provide the hundreds of tonnes of mass shielding and the interplanetary vehicle to move this enormous amount of mass. The Moon provides these resources.

  • Doug Lassiter

    The Earth provides these resources too. In spades. It just takes more propulsion to get them off the Earth than off the Moon. You’re saying that the Moon can provide them more cheaply and easily. In the short term at least, that’s certainly not so. In fact, many strategies have such shielding in the form of propellants and other consumables. Those will take considerable effort to find on the Moon, instead of rocks.

    An Ares V can put 60mt into interplanetary space in one shot. OK, let’s say one Ares V costs $1B for a first gen heavy lift. Constellation folks think that number is high. You’re going to mine, package, and throw 60mt off the Moon for $1B? Heh. It’s going to cost at least that much just to get a small bulldozer there. Hardly the route for what the Augustine panel is looking for in a “sustainable trajectory”.

    Mining the Moon is a fine idea, but it just doesn’t offer near term results, and it is cost effective only if you’re doing it a lot. We won’t be doing it a lot unless the goal is large scale colonization, which is not in the forseeable future.

    Griffin’s emphasis on the Moon is that it is practice for Mars, which in most respects a flexible path option would be as well, and more politically significantly, because we can leave some more (non-Chinese) footprints there. The Augustine report will point up the the need to reconsider those goals.

  • Robert Oler

    Marcel…not so much. That is the neat part about Jim’s article…it nits together technology development on all fronts (including the engine) to reduce travel times to something manageable.

    That is the key. Supporters of “the vision” dont see that with the current technology and structure that it uses…it is a dead ender.

    Robert G. Oler

  • sc220

    Griffin needs to drive up to D.C. and join those other middle aged to elderly protesters in the Mall. He’s beginning to sound a lot like the angry old white men who have been so vocal lately. As a middle-aged white male, I have to admit that I’m sick of hearing the complaining from this group. They’re nothing but sour grapes. They had their chance and blew it. Time to pass the torch to a new generation and demographic.

    In the words of Dick Cheney, “Whaa…whaa…whaa!”

  • @ Doug Lassiter

    To shield a tiny interplanetary habitat module is going to require at least 500 tonnes of water or 400 tonnes of polyethylene. So your talking about at least 8 Ares V launches for the shielding alone. A solar or nuclear electric powered mass driver would require about about three Ares V launches to deposit the mass driver and nuclear power plant on the lunar surface. Once the mass driver is set up, it could continuously deliver thousands of tonnes of regolith into lunar orbit annually. And electricity is a lot cheaper than chemical fuels and regolith bags are a lot cheaper than rockets.

    Lunar regolith from mass drivers makes sense if you want to protect astronauts living is space stations or interplanetary vehicles beyond LEO and you want to lower the cost of transport between the Earth and the Moon with cheap fuels of lunar origin.

  • Allen Thomson

    > Once the mass driver is set up, it could continuously deliver thousands of tonnes of regolith into lunar orbit annually.

    How would the perilune be raised? Or do the regolith bags get caught by something before completing the first orbit?

  • Doug Lassiter

    “To shield a tiny interplanetary habitat module is going to require at least 500 tonnes of water or 400 tonnes of polyethylene.”

    Aside from the fact that shielding can be devised from all parts of a mission, those numbers are disputable. Where do you get those? I believe the NRC study on managing space radiation risk last year came up with a solar minimum shielding requirement, for tolerable risk of exposure induced death in a one year free space mission, of something like 20 g/cm2 of H-rich material. One Ares V can loft 300 m2 of such material. That’s doesn’t exactly make for a palatial hab, but it is enough wall area to contain a goodly volume that astronauts can spend most of their time in. This doesn’t even consider other mitigation options such as reduced travel time, active shielding, and radiobiological strategies. In principle, this hab could be used for successive trips.

    No question that radiation mitigation is a crucial problem for deep space efforts, but when there are other more elegant technical solutions possible, building rock walls in space does suffer somewhat in “style points”. This isn’t the venue to argue about this, as it is getting decidedly OT, and I would refer you to the recent NRC study.

    But much of the trouble here is about going to Mars, and it’s clear in the flexible path scenario that any way you look at it, Mars is a long way off. There are many deep space goals that would keep us busy before we go to Mars, and a lot of radiation mitigation engineering and research that can be done.

  • Robert Oler

    Doug. Mars is a long way off for “humans” at least…and should be.

    Rand Simberg did a fairly good article about why Apollo was unique and that article coupled with Oberg’s missive about how the technology of Apollo just barely did it (my phrase but pretty accurate description) should illustrate to all who are rushing to Mars or back to the Moon the perils of such efforts without the space industrial base (not to mention the commercial base) to support such activities.

    Oberg’s current article is unique in my view in that it nits (in some timeline which I think is long) some projects which can spur development of items which would be useful with the time comes to knit all those things together and go exploring.

    The problem with current human exploration of space is that when we decide to do it almost everything has to be developed from scratch…or atleast the mentality is there at NASA to do just that.

    happy Sunday

    Robert G. Oler

  • @ Doug Lassiter

    “Aside from the fact that shielding can be devised from all parts of a mission, those numbers are disputable. Where do you get those?”

    Shielding Space Travelers; March 2006; Scientific American Magazine; by Eugene N. Parker

  • Doug Lassiter

    Let’s look carefully at what Parker says about radiation shielding.

    “TO MATCH THE PROTECTION offered by Earth’s atmosphere takes the same one kilogram of shielding material per square centimeter, although astronauts could comfortably make do with 500 grams, which is equivalent to the air mass above an altitude of 5,500 meters. Any less would begin to be counterproductive, because the shielding material would fail to absorb the shrapnel.

    If the material is water, it has to be five meters deep. So a spherical water tank encasing a small capsule would have a mass of about 500 tons.

    So where did the NRC come up with a factor of 25 less shielding needed for interplanetary travel? Well, it comes down to acceptable risk. If there is a substantial chance that a person will die on a Mars trip, it’s a little absurd to be worried about a fractional percent chance that they will die from radiation exposure equivalent to what they’d get on the surface of the Earth. So the 20 g/c number takes that into account. Yes, I agree, if you want the shielding we enjoy on the surface of the Earth for the 1-year travel duration to Mars, we’d probably never go! The per-year radiation dose from LEO astronauts assessed from badges is about factor of 100 larger than the maximum recommended dose for the U.S. public. Their life expectancy may well be shortened as a result. Should Mars travelers be better protected than our ISS travelers?

    I completely agree that solar and cosmic radiation is a serious issue for interplanetary travel by humans, and mitigating that exposure will call for serious design efforts. But we’re not at the point where we desperately need to be building rock walls in space.

    Go look at the NRC report.

  • If we’re ever going to have permanent space stations at L1, L2, L4 or L5, they’re going to have to be properly mass shielded. And we’re probably not going to be able to set up any bases on Mars until we have permanent space stations in Mars orbit. So they too need to be properly shielded from radiation.

    I’m aware of at least one ISS astronaut that has already been banned from further space travel because of too much radiation exposure. Why should anyone be banned? Why not properly protect astronauts from over exposure to radiation in the first place.

    The primary focus of the manned component of our space program should be to enhance the health and survival of humans in the New Frontier so that private industry, tourist and colonies can follow.

  • Doug Lassiter

    Larry Krauss is spouting off about one-way trips to Mars, where astronauts NEVER come back. Astronauts actually say they’d be happy to do it. I expect those same astronauts would agree to ISS-type radiation exposure if it got them to far away places. I also suspect that astronauts from, say China, would not be deterred by such exposure.

    Why should anyone be banned from further space travel because of radiation exposure? Simple. Because we’ve got a lot more who would like to go. It’s easier to tell someone to move over than it is to surround them with lead.

    Permanent space stations in deep space? As in, people living at Lagrange points for many years? I don’t think there are any plans for such things. As to a space station in Mars orbit, we’ve got it already. It’s called Phobos, and it comes with its own free rocks for shielding. Why would one blast rocks off of the Moon to make a base on Phobos?

    No, the primary focus of the manned component of our space program is not to “enhance the health and survival of humans”. It’s to get people to new places reasonably in one piece.

  • OMG! The concern of high HZT space rad, comic ray rad to name a few are real. But reality is it’s prolonged effects on humans is not known yet and is extremely statistical. There is protection under long chain molecular structures and of course H2O and H2. And as we all know the use of nuclear rocket propulsion will shorten trip times and exposure.

    But of course this is never ever mentioned in this Augustine Committee.

    What is it a space fashion show ?

    Please people… the problem with the space agency is NASA it has lost focus with human flight it refuses to look at the space nuke issue ’cause it just too scary for the public so it bans nuclear space propulsion.

    In fact Chernobyl wildlife like horses and bears thrive in hot rad zones that astronauts would endure without the hollywood mutation fear campaigns that are so pervasive in film documentaries.

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