At the Global Space Exploration Conference, or GLEX, in Washington two weeks ago, one of the conference’s organizers, the AIAA, issued a press release stating that its new president, former NASA administrator Mike Griffin, would hold a press conference where the organization “will call on Congress to establish space exploration policy goals which transcend partisan political differences, enhancing the future of the US space program and its ability to cooperate more fully with its international partners.” That made it sound like Griffin and AIAA would announce some specific goals it believed the nation should pursue.
At the press conference, though, Griffin announced no specific goals, prompting one reporter to ask just what those goals should be. “Our central theme… is that the purpose of the human spaceflight program is to move human activity off the surface of the Earth,” he said, citing the final report of the 2009 Augustine Committee. “That does not seem to me to be a Democratic or a Republican goal. I believe it’s a human goal.” He said human space exploration was inherently international in nature, and not something accomplished in the short term. “We will not reach long-term goals without a stable, coherent, sensible plan that transcends elections and leaders,” he said. “We must have plans and intermediate goals that transcend elections or largely we will just waste money.”
But how do you develop the consensus to enable those plans and achieve those goals? Griffin said conferences like GLEX could help achieve that by bringing together experts to help create such a consensus. “And when we can take an active role in doing that, it can have political influence in our various countries,” he said. He did not elaborate on the details on how to transfer that consensus from a small group of experts—GLEX had “over 630 representatives” in attendance—to a broader political base.
Griffin, though, did have some of his own ideas of what those long-term plans should be. “We had, in my view, an extremely good [NASA] authorization in 2008, that was even a little bit better than the 2005 act, which I thought was excellent,” he said. He cited provisions in the act that endorsed a human return to the Moon and utilization of the ISS. “That’s the kind of thing that we need. All of the goals espoused by that act were long-term, generational, and strategic in scope.”
As I noted in an article in The Space Review this week, Griffin—speaking only for himself and not the AIAA—also endorsed comments made by Roscosmos head Vladimir Popovkin earlier in the day at GLEX that called for a human return to the Moon as the next step for human space exploration, as opposed to NASA’s current plans for a human asteroid mission by 2025. “I think General Popovkin’s comments this morning were on target,” Griffin said. “I think the starting point beyond space station is the Moon for a host of engineering and operational reasons that, to me, make sense.”
“The next learning step, the next outward step, is the Moon,” Griffin said. “I think in the longer, broader reach of space policy, that is the path to which we will return.”