New NASA Administrator: Save Hubble!

Griffin also urged that the new “Crew Exploration Vehicle” could be operational very soon after the shuttle is terminated in 2010 (rather than the 2014 deadline currently on the table), and had some very interesting comments on the new exploration mission for the agency:

The President has put forth a choice, a strategic vision for the space program. That vision has been enunciated with exceptional clarity, and has been subjected to considerable public debate for over a year. I think it may be said that, while differences of opinion exist, the President’s proposal has attained broad strategic acceptance. It is now understood that the International Space Station, supported by the Space Shuttle, cannot be the centerpiece of the nation’s human spaceflight program. The strategic vision for the U.S. manned space program is of exploration beyond low Earth orbit. […]

In the twenty-first century and beyond, for America to continue to be preeminent among nations, it is necessary for us also to be the preeminent spacefaring nation. Or are we willing to accept the world of a generation or two hence where other nations will be engaged in the development of the Solar System, and we are not? If not, then it is time to recognize that we have squandered a once-insurmountable lead in the arts and sciences of spaceflight. The best we can say for ourselves today is that our grounded Space Shuttle is much more sophisticated than the operational vehicles belonging to the two nations which have sent people into space since we have last done so. […]

The decision to have a robust space program is like the decision to have a capable military force – it cannot be made in one year and un-made in the next. The nation does not debate, each year, whether or not it will have such forces. A similarly sustained bipartisan commitment to American leadership in space is required.

And, at least since the aftermath of the Challenger accident, nineteen years ago, we have had exactly that commitment. In constant dollars, NASA has received approximately the same allocation of funding from the taxpayers in the last sixteen years – the Space Station Era – as it received in its first sixteen years – the Apollo Era. If we are less attracted to the results of the Station Era than of the Apollo Era, then we need to reconsider our goals and our manner of pursuing them. But if funding levels continue in accordance with the President’s plans, resources are sufficient to enable a U.S. return to the Moon, and, later, to go to Mars. The country has already demonstrated the consistent support that NASA must have over an extended period of time to execute a program of human exploration. We simply have been doing other things with that money. […]

NASA in the Apollo Era was hardly the “single mission agency” in the simplified view that is often heard today. In addition to the manned spaceflight development programs of the time, NASA executed dozens of
Explorer-class missions, a dozen Pioneer missions (including Pioneer 10 and 11 to Jupiter and Saturn), Ranger 1-9, Surveyor 1-7, Mariner 1-10, the Orbiting Solar Observatory, Orbiting Geophysical Observatory, and Orbiting Astronomical Observatory series, and paid for most of the Viking missions to Mars, which were launched in 1975. Communications satellite development was initiated with Telstar and Early Bird, while the TIROS, NIMBUS, and ESSA series did the same for weather satellites. In addition to these robotic science and technology development missions, NASA also executed 199 X-15 flights (which still hold the speed record for piloted flight within the atmosphere), and accomplished an otherwise vigorous program of aeronautics development, including the liftingbody research which enabled the development of the Space Shuttle. This hardly seems the record of a “single mission agency.”

My conclusion is that we as a nation can clearly afford well-executed, vigorous programs in both robotic and human space exploration as well as in aeronautics. We know this. We did it. NASA can do more than one thing at a time.