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Griffin Defends NASA Space Exploration Vision

How we will get back to the Moon? Image credit: NASA
by Phil Berardelli
SpaceDaily US Editor
Washington DC (SPX) Jun 06, 2006
NASA's Michael Griffin presented an energetic defense Monday of his agency's ongoing restructuring to conform to the Bush administration's Vision for Space Exploration.

Speaking to reporters at NASA headquarters and linked to other agency space and research centers across the United States via teleconference, Griffin detailed how the agency is distributing responsibilities for developing that vision - contained within what is known as the Constellation Program - among the 10 NASA centers.

Despite that reorganization, and the nearly two and a half years since President George W. Bush announced NASA's exploration vision, Griffin said in response to a question that he cannot yet specify - in terms of cost allocation - how his agency will accomplish the goals of completing the International Space Station, continuing to fly the space shuttle fleet for at least four more years, and developing a new generation of spacecraft, given current federal budget realities.

"It's way too early to quote a dollar figure for an architecture most of which is still in source selection," Griffin said. "I really don't want to get into specific costs at this point."

He did say that however it is accomplished, "We must have a means of getting humans into low-Earth orbit which is enormously cheaper than the shuttle if, within the confines of NASA's budget, we're going to do the things that we want to do."

Griffin added that given the cost constraints under which NASA must operate, the agency's goals cannot be accomplished by replacing its existing shuttle and space station workforce - comprising some 3,000 civil servants and 12,000 contractors - with new personnel delegated to developing Constellation.

Instead, he said, NASA is attempting to divert some of that talent pool to build and operate the new spacecraft needed to fulfill the exploration vision's goal of returning humans to the Moon and sending them to Mars.

"We need to use our workforce to do more and different things," Griffin said.

A number of questions concerned certain NASA decisions to shift responsibilities for some of Constellation's component projects among the centers and the possibility that local politics were involved, but Griffin flatly denied the possibility.

"No political figures were involved in any of the discussion or the decision (to redistribute responsibilities)," Griffin said. "It was not made on political grounds."

For example, he said, engineers are developing descent stage for the landing segment of the Crew Exploration Vehicle, which will be powered by liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen feeding NASA's RL-10 rocket engines.

"That is probably the highest likelihood engineering design statement I can make about our architecture at the present time," Griffin said. "It's the one thing I feel certain of."

That descent stage, he continued, "will not, cannot and must not be highly integrated with the human element - the ascent stage and crew vehicle right above it. And the reason for that is the descent stage must be capable of being guided and controlled by any number of different payloads," such as unmanned cargo pods and habitats delivered by robotic craft.

Griffin explained that because of the need for multiple uses for the descent stage, his agency determined that its development needed to be centralized. Because Marshall Space Flight Center, in Huntsville, Ala., historically has handled those tasks for NASA, the center received that responsibility.

"That was the logical place to put it, and our - and I will say my - earlier assignment of the robotic lander office to (Ames Research Center in California) was not optimal."

Griffin seemed most adamant when a reporter questioned NASA's degree of commitment to the Vision for Space Exploration - for example, whether the whole program would "come crashing to a halt" in two years when a different administration assumes leadership in Washington.

"I think you can get to an answer to that if you ask yourself two questions," he replied. "The first one is, 'yes or no,' is the United States going to abandon human spaceflight? I think the obvious answer is 'no' - there will not be a president and there will not be a Congress that takes the United States out of manned spaceflight."

Griffin called the country's human spaceflight program a "strategic element that makes the United States a great power. We've been doing it now for 45 years," he added, "and we will not abandon it."

Second, he asked, "if you're going to have a human spaceflight program, what do you do with it?"

He noted that in the wake of the loss of the shuttle Columbia in February 2003, the Bush administration and NASA examined "the larger rationale for why we do this at all."

In that process, the administration - aided by the report of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board - determined that "spaceflight is strategic and the United States should not stop it, but it's expensive, it's difficult and it's dangerous, and if you're going to do it ... then the goals ought to be worth the cost and the risk and the difficulty."

Given those answers, Griffin said, "a manned space program that fails to look beyond the shuttle and station does not satisfy that criteria."

He said in that context, the administration proposed what was "a very logical plan to go beyond - finish the station, retire the shuttle, return to the Moon, go to Mars, prepare for other destinations that lie in eras beyond ours."

He called those goals "the right and proper purposes of the American civil space program and I cannot imagine another administration or another Congress backing away from those very basic, very key goals."

Griffin said discussions about specifics should proceed within those objectives. "We can argue about the rate of funding," he said. "You can argue about whether you're going to buy a new vehicle this year or next year, but broadly speaking, I think we have set a new paradigm for space exploration as it's done by Americans."

- The current Constellation assignments for the NASA centers, as announced by Griffin and two of his aides - Scott Horowitz, NASA's assistant administration for Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, and Jeff Hanley, Constellation's project manager - are:

- Ames Research Center will lead the CEV Thermal Protection System Advanced Development Project, and is developing information systems to support the Constellation Program Safety, Reliability and Quality Assurance Office.

- Dryden Flight Research Center has primary responsibility for the CEV Abort Flight Test integration and operations, including Abort Test Booster procurement and integration with the Flight Test Article.

- Glenn Research Center will lead the CEV Service Module and Spacecraft Adapter integration, providing oversight and independent analysis of the prime contractor's development of these segments. Glenn has lead responsibility for the design and development of several crew launch vehicle (CLV) upper stage systems.

- Goddard Space Flight Center is providing co-leadership in Constellation's System Engineering and Integration navigation team and software and avionics team.

- Jet Propulsion Laboratory will run a multi-center activity in support of the Mission Operations Project to plan systems engineering processes related to operations development and preparation. JPL provides co-leadership for the Constellation Program Office Systems Engineering and Integration Software and Avionics team.

- Johnson Space Center is host to the Constellation Program, the CEV Project and the Mission Operations Project. The Constellation Program manages and integrates the program and all projects. The CEV Project Office manages and integrates all CEV elements including prime contractor work. The Mission Operations Project manages and integrates all activities related to mission operations.

- Kennedy Space Center is running the Ground Operations Project, which manages all activities related to ground operations for the launch and landing sites, including ground processing, launch and recovery systems.

- Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. Langley will lead Launch Abort System integration supporting the CEV Project, providing oversight and independent analysis of the CEV prime contractor's development of the system. Langley is leading the Command Module Landing System Advanced Development Project for CEV, and providing vehicle integration and CEV test article module development for the CLV Advanced Development Flight Test-0.

- Marshall Space Flight Center is hosting the launch vehicle projects and is responsible for project management of all CLV and Cargo Launch Vehicle-related activities. Marshall will provide the CLV first stage design, and is responsible for launch vehicle demonstration testing, including the ADFT-0.

- Stennis Space Center will manage and integrate rocket propulsion testing for the CLV. The center also will lead sea-level development, certification, and acceptance testing for the upper stage engine, sea-level development testing for the upper stage main propulsion test article, and sea-level acceptance testing for the flight upper stage assembly.

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