"Those who claim that NASA cannot afford robust programs in both robotic science and manned spaceflight are mistaken." - prepared testimony of NASA Administrator nominee Michael Griffin
On April 13, the Senate unanimously confirmed Michael Griffin to be the new head of NASA. Appearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on the previous day, Griffin voiced his strong support for President Bush's Vision for Space Exploration, but indicated that he thought the space agency could pursue the exploration initiative without abandoning substantive science and aeronautics programs. Griffin also stated that the U.S. would live up to its commitments to its International Partners on completing the space station, and that once the shuttle fleet was back in operation, he would revisit the issue of a manned servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. As other important priorities, he listed reducing or eliminating the potential time gap between the planned retirement of the shuttle fleet by the end of the decade and the expected availability of a new Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) several years later, and ensuring that NASA's financial affairs were in order so that it could pass an independent audit.
Griffin comes to NASA from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, where he was head of the Space Department. He earned a PhD in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Maryland, and holds Master's degrees in Aerospace Science, Electrical Engineering, Applied Physics, Civil Engineering, and Business Administration. Griffin has held many positions in government, industry and academia, including serving as NASA's Chief Engineer and Associate Administrator for Exploration. He has been an adjunct professor at the George Washington University, the Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Maryland.
Committee members offered nothing but words of praise for Griffin. Citing the nominee's string of academic accomplishments, Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) commented that "Dr. Griffin is - quite literally - a rocket scientist," and extolled the "expertise and passion" that he would bring to NASA. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) said Griffin was "exactly the right man for the job...an engineer who can manage," and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), a former astronaut, called him "an outstanding choice" and "a breath of fresh air" for the space agency.
The President's space exploration vision is "the right strategic program [and] the right strategic direction," Griffin stated, and "I support it wholeheartedly." Nevertheless, he also declared that NASA could afford to continue strong programs in other areas as well. "NASA has proved, in the past, that it can do more than one thing" with the funding provided, he said; "I look forward to the opportunity" to prove that NASA can do so again. Addressing those who argue that the space exploration vision "can't be afforded," Griffin noted that in constant dollars, the funding NASA received in its first 16 years during the Apollo era, was comparable to the levels it has received in the last 16 years. "My conclusion is that we as a nation can clearly afford well-executed, vigorous programs in both robotic and human space exploration as well as in aeronautics," Griffin's prepared testimony states. It continues, "We know this. We did it. NASA can do more than one thing at a time."
Griffin's prepared testimony also lauded NASA's science missions as "among the crown jewels of the nation's achievements." Citing the Mars rovers, the Galileo, Cassini, Voyager and New Horizons missions, and the Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer and Compton observatories, his statement says, "As we undertake to redirect our human spaceflight program, it is crucial that we do it without damaging NASA's outstanding science programs." Asked about servicing the Hubble Telescope, Griffin concurred with the conclusions of an independent review team (which he chaired) that a robotic servicing mission was "not feasible" with the time and funds available. However, he said that once the shuttle has returned to flight, and new risk assessments have been conducted, the option of a shuttle servicing mission should be reassessed "in light of what we learn after return to flight."
Griffin's prepared statement listed his top six priorities as NASA Administrator as follows: flying the shuttle fleet safely until its retirement no later than 2010; bringing a new CEV into service as soon as possible; developing a balanced program of science, exploration and aeronautics "consistent with the redirection of the human spaceflight program to focus on exploration;" completing the space station consistent with commitments to the International Partners and human exploration needs; encouraging partnerships with the emerging commercial space sector; and establishing a lunar return program with maximal utility for an eventual manned trip to Mars.
Regarding the expected hiatus between retirement of the shuttle and operation of the CEV, he said he did not wish to see the U.S. depending on any partner "for human or any access to space." While the President called for development of a CEV no later than 2014, "he didn't say we couldn't do it earlier," Griffin said. "That would be my goal." He also said that the U.S. remains committed to bringing the space station "to the level of completion consistent with our obligations to the International Partners." He added that "utilization" of the space station "remains to be fully fleshed out." Asked about proposed reductions to aeronautics R&D in the FY 2006 budget request, Griffin said his job would be to support the President's proposals, but "the President understands that [arriving at] a final budget is an iterative process."
In a statement on Griffin's confirmation, Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK) noted that during the search for a new NASA Administrator, he had been "approached repeatedly by people who raved about Dr. Griffin. They all said he was the man for the job if he could be convinced to accept it. I am pleased the President appointed Dr. Griffin and I look forward to working closely with him and his team of talented professionals."