Griffin stars in Washington

by Chris Bergin

NASA administrator Mike Griffin gave a confident performance in front of the House Science Committee today, testifying on NASA’s fiscal year (FY) 2007 budget request.

Despite a barrage of questions from congressional leaders, upset from hearing of science cuts in the NASA budget, Griffin managed to side with their views, whilst explaining the reasoning behind the agency’s new direction towards manned exploration.

SPACEFLIGHT L2 – Coming soon

Introduced as a ‘reality check’ by chair Sherwood Boehlert, Griffin was heaped with praise, but cloaked under the plaudits were some very unhappy politicians – most of whom were under the impression that the science cuts were the beginnings of an irreversible swing towards a priority of spending on manned exploration.

‘I’m extremely uneasy about this budget, it’s bad for space science,’ noted Boehlert. ‘We face some stark choices, but maybe that’s all we can do with our options. I back the VSE (Vision for Space Exploration). As for the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle, we have a clear decisions to make, we can either have them or end them.

‘Given the cost of shutdown, it’s not even certain how much would be saved. We may never escape from the pattern we set this year. When science becomes secondary, it will be hard to leave this pattern.’

That pattern of concern continued throughout the hearing, but Griffin was fast to place a brick wall in front of an assumption raised by one lawmaker, who believes the lack of willingness for expenditure – on a plan that is by no means set in stone – was in danger of losing yet more support from the science community.

While Griffin nearly slipped up by quoted a Gallup poll which wasn’t specific to the VSE to show public support and interest is firmly in favour of manned space flight as opposed to science, the administrator was keen to point out that the top line budget spending on science was actually on the rise.

‘We cannot afford everything wanted by the scientific community,’ said Griffin, while noting science has enjoyed a rise from 25 percent to 32 percent from 1992 to present day.

However, cuts have been made, some seriously damaging to ambitious and high profile missions. While ‘deferred’ can be translated as cut, Griffin was keen to dismiss that, insisting missions such as the Terrestrial Planet Finder are simply delayed.

He also went further, explaining that within the budget constraints he has been tasked to work with, his priority is to ensure the gap between Shuttle retirement and the debut of the CEV is as minimal and as smooth a transition as possible.

‘We’re in transition from retiring the Space Shuttle to bringing in the CEV (Crew Exploration Vehicle). It would be damaging to delay the CEV, more than it would science missions,’ Griffin insisted.

The administrator then came to the defence of manned space flight when pressed on the damage that is being done to science missions and projects at NASA, promoted by lawmakers upping their terminology of the cuts, classing it as cannibalisation of the science budget.

‘Why was it not considered cannibalising when science was eating into the Human Space flight budget!’ Griffin retorted.

‘No one complained,’ was the response from lawmakers.

‘But I’m complaining! Griffin fired back. ‘We’ve been struggling for 30 years. It needs to be fixed. We need the CEV ready no later than 2013 to 2014. (To go to the) Moon in 2018 (would require us to progress) without any slips.

‘To slip out beyond that is a lack of credibility.’

Further articles will follow from Griffin’s appearance in front of the committee.

Live play-by-play thread on the hearing.

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