In a presentation to the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science, Administrator Griffin laid out NASA’s plans for implementing the President’s Vision for Space Exploration. Although the President’s vision is inspiring, and will have far reaching effects on our country, its economy, and the future of space exploration, the lack of additional funding left many questioning if it was all just election year politics.
Then, on December 21, 2004, the President signed a new national policy directive that established guidelines and implementation actions for United States space transportation programs and activities to ensure the Nation’s continued ability to access and use space for national and homeland security, and civil, scientific, and commercial purposes. The President demonstrated his commitment to the Vision for Space Exploration by making it a priority in his FY 2005 budget request, and Congress responded positively by providing funding for NASA at the level requested by the President.
Nominated by President Bush, and just one month after taking over as the head of NASA, Administrator Michael Griffin has decided that our manned space program is the top priority for NASA, and he is willing to sacrifice lesser programs to move the second generation of Space Shuttle onto the fast track, while holding spending within NASA’s current budget.
“Several NASA missions and activities will need to be deferred or accomplished in other ways in order to ensure adequate funding for the priorities of the President and the Congress in FY 2005. NASA cannot do everything that we would like to accomplish. Several missions will have to be delayed, deferred, or canceled in order to pay for the missions where the priorities were set by the President and Congress.”
The three remaining shuttles will be retired in 2010, after 28 additional missions. If the schedule set by the previous NASA Administrator were followed, the new Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) would not be ready to fly until 2015. This would leave the United States without access to low earth orbit or the International Space Station (ISS) for at least four years, a situation completely unacceptable to Administrator Griffin.
“The six-year gap between the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz mission and the 1981 debut of the shuttle damaged both the U.S. space program and the nation,” Griffin said. “I don’t want to do it again.”
Griffin told the Senate subcommittee on commerce, justice and science that he does not know how much it will cost to accelerate development of the crew exploration vehicle, still in the early design phase. But by choosing a single contractor in 2006, rather than having two contractors competing for the contract through 2008, More than $1 billion dollars could be saved for use in the near term.
“The CEV needs to be safe, it needs to be simple, it needs to be soon,” Griffin told reporters later in the afternoon.
In an age of difficult budget choices, Administrator Griffin is making the right decisions. His leadership is a breath of fresh air for the field of space exploration, and he seems to be exactly what our country needs as the Administrator of NASA.
“For America to continue to be preeminent among nations, it is necessary for us to be the preeminent spacefaring nation. It is equally true that great nations need allies and partners in this journey. That is what the Vision for Space Exploration is about.”