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NASA Chief's E-Mail Defies Public Comments on Lunar Program

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin:
NASA Administrator Michael Griffin: "My own view is about as pessimistic as it is possible to be." (Craig Bailey - Associated Press)
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"In a rational world, we would have been allowed to pick a shuttle retirement date to be consistent with Ares/Orion availability, we would have been asked to deploy Ares/Orion as early as possible (rather than 'not later than 2014') and we would have been provided the necessary budget to make it so," he wrote.

"The rational approach didn't happen, primarily because for OSTP and OMB, retiring the shuttle is a jihad rather than an engineering and program management decision."

The White House declined to comment when asked about the e-mail. But a few hours later, Griffin penned a retraction.

"The leaked internal e-mail fails to provide the contextual framework for my remarks, and my support for the administration's policies," he said in a statement to the Sentinel.

Griffin, 58, was put in charge of NASA in April 2005, intending to turn President Bush's vision of sending astronauts to the moon and Mars into reality.

The new administrator called for a three-year break between the shuttle's retirement and the advent of the Ares rocket. The money freed up from the shuttle program was to give Ares its final financial push to the launch pad.

But the moon initiative put severe pressure on NASA's budget, forcing Griffin into a difficult balancing act -- trying to create a next-generation spaceship without crippling other programs ranging from Earth observation satellites to Mars robots.

Over time, the White House failed to back NASA's budget requests, holding it at about $17 billion, and Congress rebuffed bids to increase it by $1 billion or more.

Meanwhile, technical issues slowed development of the Ares rocket. The gap grew to five years, amid grumbling by Congress and dissident scientists and engineers inside NASA.

Space historian Howard E. McCurdy of American University said Griffin's tensions with the White House are not without precedent: Even in the days of the Apollo program, NASA bosses battled administration bean counters.

"What you are looking at is the fog of public policymaking," McCurdy said. "If you looked down from a distance, [Apollo] was this beautiful straight line to the moon. But if you got up close, it was the fog of war with fights over money and strategy. It's the same now."

Griffin's top aides have urged him to extend the shuttle program because Russia's invasion of Georgia -- and the ensuing chill in U.S.-Russian relations -- looks likely to cut off NASA's access to Russian Soyuz spaceships.

Griffin has termed U.S. dependence on the Russians "unseemly" but said the Soyuz was a crucial part of a transition from the shuttle era.

But in his e-mail, Griffin wrote that his White House bosses were disinterested in the space station and didn't care one way or another about relying on the Russians.

"They were always 'okay' with buying Soyuz . . . and even if it didn't happen, well, that was okay too," he wrote.

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