Senate Seeks to Expedite Vote to Confirm Griffin as NASA Administrator

By Keith Cowing
April 12, 2005
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Senate Seeks to Expedite Vote to Confirm Griffin as NASA Administrator

Dr. Michael Griffin appeared before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation this morning as President Bush’s nominee to be the next Administrator of NASA. The questioning was generally friendly and to the point. Griffin did well and, it would seem, the committee will act to get a vote on his nomination expedited such that he might well be on the job next Monday morning.

Sen. Sarbanes opened by saying “This is an outstanding nomination.” Sen. Mikulski added: “Dr. Griffin is an outstanding candidate. He is a rocket scientist, THANK GOD. Finally we have someone who understands. I want to save the Hubble and hope that Dr. Griffin is an able partner in that.”

Sen. Hutchison said “I am pleased to have Griffin’s expertise at the time that NASA is working on Return to Flight. I would like to try and get his confirmation out of Senate this week. Having Griffin on board by Monday would help accomplish Return to Flight.”

Mike Griffin then made a few opening comments. “This is a watershed moment for the space program. Even though the timing was forced upon us [by the Columbia accident] it is a watershed nonetheless. With regard to space policy he said “it has become clear that U.S. needs to look in new directions”. Specifically with regard to the President’s space policy, Griffin said: “I think that this is the right direction.” After making some historical notes about NASA ‘s budget, and noting that the agency has always been adequately funded, Griffin said: “If we receive the budget allocations, we can do the President’s policy.” As for multitasking, Griffin noted: “NASA has done more than one thing at the same time in the past – and we can do this again.”

Sen. Stevens added “We will take emergency action on Dr. Griffin’s nomination”.

Members of the committee then put detailed questions to Griffin

Sen. Nelson opened by saying “NASA has been wandering in the wilderness for a number of years and it needs the strong leadership [Dr. Griffin] will offer.” He then asked Griffin to comment on NASA’s risk assessment decision process.

Griffin replied: “This is my first priority. We need to hear from all parties that there is no information that needs to reach the top that fails to reach the top.”

Sen. Nelson then asked Griffin to comment on the looming hiatus wherein the U.S. would not have human access to space – and possibly have to depend on Russia who might not be a reliable partner. 2010 shut down shuttle – and several years later before the CEV [Crew Exploration Vehicle] is ready to go.

Griffin replied: “My second priority is to address that gap. This means a lot to me. This is a matter of what it takes to be a great nation in 21st Century. I do not want to see us dependent on any partner – reliable or unreliable – for access to space. Two nations have put people into space since the U.S. has last done so. I don’t like that.”

With regard to the CEV flying by 2014 “That is too far out. The President said ‘no later than 2014’. He did not say that we could not be smart and do it earlier. The U.S. developed Gemini – from – award to first flight – in 38 months. Even the Apollo spacecraft – a more challenging vehicle whose development was interrupted by a tragedy – happened in 6 years. It seems unacceptable to me to take between 2005 – 2014 to do the same thing when we already know how.”

Sen. Hutchison agreed. “The 5 year hiatus is of great concern to me” she said. With regard to ISS she asked “Are you committed to finishing the ISS and the science that can be done there?”

Griffin replied: “Let me assure you – your priority to reduce the gap in access to space after Shuttle retirement – we are of like mind. With regard to the ISS – yes, the President has pledged – and I, as his nominee am pledged – to bring ISS to a level of completion that meets the obligations to our partners. We have undergone a trauma in our space program. We are committed to meeting our obligations to our partners.” With regard to science and the ISS “it is first and foremost life science zero gravity on the human body in preparation for longer voyages. It is also a test bed for engineering development of hardware before that hardware is subjected to long journeys from home. There is other science to be done as well. Its utilization remains to be fully fleshed out. I have always felt that the most valuable application of any space station is to check out hardware in nascent stages of development. This allows more interaction with hardware. Most of the time we design, build launch and hope we did it right.”

When asked by another senator to speak about Hubble, Griffin said: “With regard to the value of Hubble, the shortest way to say this is that the Hubble, almost by itself, is the instrument that allowed us as a race of people to understand that it is true that we know nothing about 95% of the universe.” With regard to robotic servicing, Griffin said: “Before I was nominated I was chair of review committee for the robotic servicing mission. That committee has designated that the mission is not feasible – in terms of the time, money, and period before Hubble may become unusable. I would like to take the robotic mission off the plate. I think the choice comes down to reinstating a shuttle servicing mission or a simple deorbiting mission. The initial decision was made in the aftermath of the loss of Columbia. When we return to flight it will be essentially a new vehicle, with a new risk analysis associated with it. I think we should reassess the earlier decision in light of what we learn after return to flight.

Sen. Allen expressed his concerns about aeronautics cuts. Griffin said that he “did not understand rationale” for these cuts and will get back to Allen on this topic. Griffin added “I find it more than somewhat worrisome that we are below a 50% market share when we were once at over 90%.”

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.