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Griffin Welcomes Russian Help In Future Space Missions

NASA's new cargo launch (left) and crew launch rockets, under development as part of the agency's Constellation Program to replace the aging shuttle fleet within a decade. Image credit: NASA
by Phil Berardelli
SpaceDaily US Editor
Washington DC (SPX) Jun 07, 2006
NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said he would welcome Russian participation in future space exploration missions that go beyond the International Space Station.

At a news briefing Monday, in which Griffin and other NASA officials discussed several reorganizations under way to prepare for future human flights to the Moon and Mars under the Constellation Program, he responded to a question about the potential for more U.S.-Russian cooperation in space.

The reporter, from Aviation Week, said he had spent the previous week and Moscow and had heard "laments" from Russian space officials about NASA's lack of coordination on exploration efforts.

Griffin replied that in his travels to Russia since becoming administrator, he also has spent a good deal of time with senior officials at both Roskosmos and the S.P.Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation Energia. With regard to robotic missions, he said, "frankly, we welcome coordination with any of the international partners who want to work with us."

He said it is a "rare NASA science mission that doesn't have a substantial international component to it," but added that it has been a long time "since the Russians have expressed any interest in planetary explorations, so with the energy dollars that are flowing into Russia, if they are interested in revitalizing their very proud history of planetary exploration, I'd say I'm all for it and we would absolutely look forward to working with them."

Griffin added that on several occasions he has said "the Russians have been great partners on (the International Space Station)." It was a tough learning experience, however, he noted.

"I was on board at the start of that learning experience and it was a tough 10 years," he said, "but the two nations have learned to work together and have forged a very effective station partnership, and the Russians have really stepped up to the plate after our loss of Columbia."

Griffin said he sees "no reason why, in the robotic, lunar and Mars programs, we cannot do the same - and I'm very willing to do that."

At the same briefing, in answer to another reporter's question about the date of the first flight of NASA's Crew Exploration Vehicle, Griffin said the testing and launch targets are financially driven.

NASA has been discussing with Congress the levels of funding that are going to be required to finish construction of the space station, and to fly the space shuttle the remaining number of scheduled times, he said, "and that level is more than what had been planned in earlier budget years."

He said after he joined NASA as administrator in April 2005 and had a chance to "review the books," as he put it, "we realized we were about $4 billion short. So, though I hated to do it, I took about $2.2 billion out of (NASA's science budget) and about $1.6 billion out of exploration in order to provide the necessary money to finish the assembly of the space station."

That funding hit imposed delays on the CEV deployment dates, which "we don't like, but we have to live with," he said. "Until we have definitized contracts for all of the elements of the CEV and CLV system and know how that plays against the budget, we won't know what the exact dates are going to be."

At this point, Griffin continued, it still looks like 2013 or 2014 for the CEV's first launch. "That complies with the law and we will do as best to improve that as we can."

He said NASA, as announced, would select a CEV contractor by late summer. "We said that last year (and) we will select that contractor at the end of August or first week of September - we think we're solidly on track and we're pretty pleased with all that."

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