Friday, January 9, 2009

Griffin: A Long Way to Go ...

Presentation by NASA Administrator Mike Griffin
to the Space Transportation Association

I've had the pleasure of speaking to the Space Transportation Association each January for the past several years, and I'd like to thank Rich Coleman for this year's invitation.

Last year, I addressed the considerations governing the design of NASA's Constellation architecture, to get on the record why the design is what it is. However, judging by the many questions I receive on the topic, I didn't do a very good job, so I will try again today. And, while I will try not to repeat what I have said in prior speeches and testimony, I must admit that in tackling these issues I am reminded of Shakespeare's Henry V: "Once more into the breach, dear friends ..."

Constellation was designed to implement a new civil space policy, articulated by the president in the aftermath of the Columbia accident, and modified, extended, and enhanced by both Republican and Democratic Congresses in the NASA Authorization Acts of 2005 and 2008.

At this point, after five years of discussion, I think it is fair to say that the broad principles of the policy provide a reasoned, and reasonable, consensus on goals for the American civil space program. Briefly, the United States will meet domestic and international commitments by using the Space Shuttle to finish the International Space Station (ISS), after which the Shuttle fleet will be retired and replaced by a new system to support space station crew transfer and logistics, enable human lunar return and sustained lunar presence, and pave the way for future voyages to Mars and the near-Earth asteroids. Other important points are captured in both policy and law, including especially the intent to foster commercial development of space, but I believe this one sentence captures the essence of today's policy direction for NASA's human spaceflight program.

The policy is not without practical concerns. We are completing ISS and planning for the retirement of the Shuttle fleet by the end of 2010. At the same time, the first Constellation elements, Ares 1 and Orion, are being built. These elements were originally required to be in service by 2014, given the budgetary allocations then thought to be available for development, and we identified design alternatives that could have provided capability as early as 2011. However, in the wake of numerous administration budget reductions and two Continuing Resolutions, initial operational capability for Ares 1 and Orion is now projected for 2015.

At issue are the implications of this timing for ISS support and utilization, and the geopolitics of depending upon Russia for five years for crew transportation to the facility. A multi-year gap in independent, guaranteed U.S. access to the space station whose development we led seems folly, a matter concerning which I have been on the record for almost four years now. However, as I continue to remind people, "the gap" is not a surprise, it is a known feature inherent in the last four budget cycles. If, now that we are almost upon it, it seems a bad feature, the question becomes, what can be done about it, and at what cost in terms of money, risk, and foregone opportunities? I will have more to say on this later, but for the moment let's continue with larger issues.

This policy mandates hard things. Returning the Space Shuttle safely to flight - I and many others in this room can tell you how hard that was. Finish the station; harder yet, but we're doing it. Then, even harder: retire the Shuttle, a system we've been designing, building, and flying for forty years. The Shuttle is an American icon throughout the world, one that can be seen on billboards in Beijing. But it is also a system which, even when operated to perfection, cannot take us where we want to go again - out beyond low Earth orbit (LEO). And, finally, hardest of all, we are to build a new human space transportation system that can take us where we want to go, something we last initiated almost five decades ago.
Read more HERE.

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