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Obama vs. NASA, round 1

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NASA Administration Michael D. Griffin, pictured in October 2008 (AP Photo).

First Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, and now Michael D. Griffin. The NASA administrator is stubbornly putting another big wrinkle in the Obama transition:

CAPE CANAVERAL – NASA administrator Mike Griffin is not cooperating with President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team, is obstructing its efforts to get information and has told its leader that she is “not qualified” to judge his rocket program, the Orlando Sentinel has learned....

In addition, Griffin is scripting NASA employees and civilian contractors on what they can tell the transition team and has warned aerospace executives not to criticize the agency’s moon program, sources said.

Griffin’s resistance is part of a no-holds-barred effort to preserve the Constellation program, the delayed and over-budget moon rocket that is his signature project.

Now, I'm no fan of Cold War-era human space exploration that does little more than show the world how smart and rich we Americans are, but the Obama presidency does provide Griffin plenty to worry about. As The Times mentioned in an editorial last summer, Obama has stated -- in writing -- that NASA's Constellation program will come under Obama's budget scalpel to free up funding for the president-elect to fulfill an Earth-bound promise:

Red Planet policy turns out to be one of the areas in which McCain and Obama present bright, clear policy differences. In short, McCain supports the vision for space exploration that President Bush articulated in 2004, which committed NASA to returning human beings to the moon by 2020, with a vaguely defined ambition to send astronauts on to Mars before 2050. This vision has since coalesced into NASA's Constellation program, intended, among other things, to replace the retiring space shuttle. And the Democratic contender? Earlier this year, in a 15-page position paper detailing his ideas for education, Obama sneaked in the following line at the end: "The early education plan will be paid for by delaying the NASA Constellation program for five years."

Indefensible as Griffin's actions are here, the NASA administrator's stonewalling to incoming Obama bureaucrats doesn't come entirely unprovoked. Griffin's agency is the patriotic window-dressing to which elected types love to promise support for futuristic human space exploration when constituents are watching but don't actually pay for when it's budgeting time. Witness President Bush's election-year call in 2004 for humans to return to the moon by 2020 and make their first trip to Mars some decades thereafter -- a monumental feat that would require an equally monumental infusion of cash to NASA. Yet NASA's annual budget increases since 2006 have barely outpaced inflation (again, no complaints here).

But Griffin should understand that Constellation isn't his baby. Instead, landing a man on the moon using public money is a matter of national policy that will require more than $100 billion in taxpayer funding through the years. And even without Obama's promise to delay Constellation, the program would probably fall victim to record federal deficits in Washington during the economic recession. As The Times editorial board said in 2005 after Griffin announced his optimistic moonshot:

Given these more urgent concerns, cost overruns on a NASA project of dubious scientific value should not be tolerated. If that means delays, so be it. The moon is creeping away from Earth at a rate of only 3.8 centimeters per year; it’ll still be around if we can’t get there by 2020.


Comments () | Archives (14)

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Ras Suarez

I agree. The new administration has probably reckoned how lightweight in real science this project is for the amount of money it will cost. It's a huge feel-good show and tell that accomplishes nothing. The money is far better spent in sending unmanned missions to the moons of Jupiter and Saturn and funding better research tools to explore outer space.

John Benac

100 billion over the years. hmm. NASA has a budget of roughly 20 billion per year (Which is about 2 months of the IRAQ war.) So with NASA planning to return to the moon in 2020, with a flat budget, thwy would normally spend 240 billion between now and then.

So if you have an issue with 100 billion spread out over 12 years, what do you think NASA is worth?

NASA could cough up 100 billion if they used less than half of the anemic budget that they get today.

With the shuttle retiring and the station being completed, do you think that NASA should just stop exploring space?

Like China mothballed it's world class fleet a few hundred years before they were "discovered" by Europeans who by then had advanced beyond them?


I'm all for science. I love sci-fi. And i think it would be awesome to travel to another planet. But let's be realistic. American is in a new depression. Obama is right. What little money is now being generated needs to go towards education and stimulating the economy.


Oh it isn't just going to be NASA that gets shafted,Obama is an equal opprotunity shafter.He is going to cut programs from top government to the bottom shelf of our fridges.Welcome to the Obamanation.
Get ready to give give give to the gov.


So if you think going to the moon is a waste then why go any where that gives millions hope. So we can save money with projects in Africa and every poor country in the world. Instead lets just give it to people who will just waste it on bad ideas. And I'm not dumb enough to think they would give it back to the tax payers.

Ross Crandall

It is by far a better investment to expand exploration into space then pay 800+ Billion in bailing out a corrupt economic system we have on wall street today. Not to mention the 14 billion awaiting approval to help fund an industry that fails simply due to it inability to innovate. There are more jobs to be creating by expanding our role into space than these other companies. Turn those old decaying car plants into space fleet assembly and get those union boys earning their money.


I agre with the assesment this article makes. I believe Griffen is sensing that manned spaceflight is about to be scrapped. Ulike the writer, I am a fan of human spaceflight. If I were in Griffens' positon my reaction would be similiar.


"Given these more urgent concerns, cost overruns on a NASA project of dubious scientific value should not be tolerated. If that means delays, so be it. The moon is creeping away from Earth at a rate of only 3.8 centimeters per year; it’ll still be around if we can’t get there by 2020."

Short sighted sloganeering won't cover the fact that if we don't move, other rivals will - China, India, Russia, have openly stated goals of reaching the moon.

Where will those who would implement a much to long delayed program come from. They'll find other jobs. Maybe other countries will outsource some of the work to us.

We need inspiration, especially now. Lets not take the easy way out, shall we.

Jon Alexandr

I'm surprised by Griffin's actions (at least, as they are reported by the LA Times), but the idea that space technology development is somehow "patriotic window-dressing" is a moronic stance that unfortunately permeates much of liberal thinking. (I'm a liberal progressive *and* pro-space.) Obama's own NASA Transition Team has significantly modified the position paper the LA Times quotes, and I am hopeful that this Team will ultimately take a more reasoned approach to NASA than your editorial suggests. NASA cannot operate efficiently if its program commitments are treated frivolously. A sustainable future for humanity beyond mere presidential election cycles might not be possible *without* the benefits of space resources, and time is running short.


The NASA Administrator is a pinhead.

Cowing says it all:

Other criticisms are that Griffin wants "to do things only his way," Cowing said. "The problem with him is that he wants to be both the NASA administrator, its chief scientist and its chief engineer, and that's just not possible.

If you check his career you will find that he has never accomplished anything (except degrees of course). He is always spending all of his time trying to get his next job and telling everyone that he is smart. One unfinished job after another does not make one proficient in any one of the above three positions.


Don Nelson

I've applied for the NASA administrator position...primarily as a mechanism to define a "feasible and realistic" strategic plan to get NASA back to contributing to the nation's economy and prestige. There is no doubt that the Constellation Program will not survive in the Obama administration. However there must be a plan to replace Constellation that keeps NASA's budget revenant...I've proposed that a technology development program is the direction NASA should take and have been seeking support from the aerospace community and congress for this plan.

I am concerned that we will again get an administrator that will not be able to make the technical and culture changes needed at NASA. I would like to see and would welcome a public debate on how best to direct NASA's future in the Obama administrator.

Don A. Nelson


The money spent on NASA has generated revenue returns that are beyond count in science, medicine, aerospace, transporation, computing, you name it. Every major business sector in America in the past 30 yeas has benefited from NASA R&D. I can't believe how non-chalant we Americans are: we routinely send astronauts to space for months at a time! What an incredible engineering achievement, on a par with the great pyramids and the chunnel!

Be proud of NASA and support it. THat doesn't mean turn a blind eye to waste, graft and corruption. But heck, people, if we lose that capability, do you think we'll ever gain it back?

The best thing Obama could do would be to re-double NASA's space and Earth science efforts, and push the human presence out to the moon, the asteroids, Mars, and beyond! That would be the best boost for education and economic stimulus that he could do!

PS: None of NASA's funding is spent in SPACE. It is all spent here in America!

Christopher Slaughter

Fact: Most of the things we use every day were perpetuated by the Space program

Fact: The government shells out more dough for outdated social programs and war time operations than Nasa requires for MANNED space flight.

Fact: The bailouts of recent are yet another waste of taxpayer dollars to help corrupt and stagnet organizations continue to be corrupt and stagnet.

Fact: We live on a rock that will not support life forever.

Fact: We must continue exploration in space both manned and unmanned to insure our existance.

Opinion: The U.S. needs to reboot it's enitre federal body and get rid of career politicians

Opinion: Catch all the Spitzers etc. in the government using taxpayer dollars for their own devices and the space program would probably have no worries.

Opinion: The U.S government at this point lack any and all credibility to make decisions for the future of all Americans. Down with them all.

james coulter

we need not spend money on NASA going to mars programs, at less do lay it for now, until the US got back on she feet.



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