Hey, I think that it’s time (long past time) for Mike Griffin to go, but I think that characterization of his behavior in comments at this story is a little over the top. I mean, I don’t expect him to eat the muzzle after his wife takes poison. Though he does seem determined to burn the entire NASA budget to the ground rather than have it turned to some purpose that would actually open up space for the American people…
That said, the title of Bobby Block’s piece is a little understated. If his reporting is accurate (and we have no reason from past behavior of Dr. Griffin or others described to think not) he is being much more than a “transition problem” for the incoming president. This in itself, I think, speaks volumes about Mike and the NASA culture:
Those who spoke for this article, including a member and staff in Congress, NASA employees, aerospace executives and consultants, spoke only on condition that their names not be used…
…The Bush White House has pledged cooperation, and many agency leaders have told staff to cooperate fully. Griffin himself sent a memo urging employees “to answer questions promptly, openly and accurately.”
At the same time, he made clear he expected NASA employees to stay on message.
For example, transition-team interviews have been monitored by NASA officials “taking copious notes,” according to congressional and space-community sources. Employees who met with the team were told to tell their managers about the interview.
The desperation strong-arm tactics being used here are unsurprising, but are also not in keeping with an agency supposedly responsible to public accountability and the taxpayers. As anyone who has been reading this blog for long knows, I was not (to understate) a huge supporter of Senator Obama as a presidential candidate. But on the issue of space, I was largely agnostic, because I had no reason to believe that Senator McCain would be any improvement, and I was certainly not a supporter of president Bush on the issue, other than the basic concept of the Vision for Space Exploration (and a few bright spots, like White House support for COTS in the face of high-level NASA indifference). In this case, because I personally know some of the people on the space transition team, while I have had some policy differences with them over the years, I think that, relative to the current NASA administration, they are on the side of the angels. So I was gratified to read this:
…this week, Garver told a meeting of aerospace representatives in Washington that “there will be change” to NASA policy and hinted that Obama would name a new administrator soon, according to participants.
At this point, and particularly after reading this, it can’t happen soon enough for me. Here’s the real problem:
The tensions are due to the fact that NASA’s human space flight program is facing its biggest crossroads since the end of the Apollo era in the 1970s. The space shuttle is scheduled to be retired in 2010, and the next-generation Constellation rockets won’t fly before 2015.
Nearly four years ago, President Bush brought in Griffin to implement a plan to return astronauts to the moon by 2020 as a prelude to going to Mars. Griffin and his team selected Constellation, with its NASA-designed Ares I rocket and Orion capsule, as cheaper and safer than existing rockets. Constellation – especially Ares 1 — is the center of what Griffin sees as his legacy to return humans to the frontiers of space.
He wants to “return humans to the frontiers of space,” but he is perfectly happy to put forth a plan that ensures that it will only be a few humans (government employees) a couple times a year, for many billions per trip. Talk about Apollo on steroids.
It’s the Apollo budget on steroids as well, which is why Apollo was unsustainable financially. This is only one area in which he completely ignored, or even thumbed his nose at, the Aldridge Commission. As I recommended to the transition team, go read the report, and reflect on how much Mike Griffin’s NASA has deviated from its recommendations, and completely blown off the work of the contractors who worked to present options that would have been in keeping with it.
Unfortunately, due to the jobs issue and politics, it’s possible that this disastrous architecture will continue. But if it does, fortunately, it is pretty clear (though little consolation) that it will do so under new “leadership.”
[Thursday morning update]
In another dispatch from Bizarro World, in yet another display of his magnificent superhuman powers in miscomprehension of plain English, Mark Whittington writes that I (as opposed to the commenter at Bobby Block’s site, who I quoted in the post title) am comparing Mike Griffin to Hitler. He also demonstrates that he has no idea what Godwin’s Law is, if he thinks that I “violated” it.
Well, I guess it’s technically true if, by “comparing,” one means pointing out that he is not. I’ll “compare” Mark to Hitler similarly. Unfortunately, I’m less able to “compare” him in the same manner to Bozo the Clown.
[A few minutes later]
A funny (in a sad way) comment over at NASA Watch (I have a couple comments over there as well for Apollo worshipers):
Remembering that Mike Griffin explained his Orion/Ares system as ‘Apollo on Steroids’, and with what we know about steroid use, Mr. Griffin running off the rails like this [2 1/2 year old project two years behind? Don't you trust what I'm telling you?] can simply be explained as the reaction of his body to heavy steroid use.
Verbally combative, liver damage, shrunken testicles. We’ll get back to you about the latter two effects.
I’ve heard it’s a tough habit to kick.
[Update about lunchtime]
Mark now updates, hilariously and delusionally, to fantasize that “my rage knows no bounds.” Only he would confuse amusement with “rage.”
[Update mid afternoon]
Dr. Griffin claims to be “appalled” at the Orlando Sentinel report. I think that, like people who when they apologize are really only sorry they got caught, he is appalled by the fact that his actions have been reported. I don’t see any denials of the specifics in his protest.
[Evening update (late evening on the east coast -- I'm in LA)]
There’s a good discussion in comments on this topic over at Space Politics. “Anonymous.Space” has good commentary as usual, but this is a key point, I think:
…it’s the transition team’s job to ask questions, and Griffin should understand that and know better than to launch unprovoked, petulant attacks on them in a public setting. He, and more importantly NASA, need the transition team on NASA’s side. Griffin should be thankful that the NASA transition team is wholly composed of NASA boosters (most agencies are not so lucky), and work with the team in a transparent manner to develop the best possible set of materials and options for the new Administration. If Griffin is incapable of doing that, whatever the reason, then he should resign immediately. It doesn’t do Constellation, or NASA at large, any favors to have its Administrator engage in such uselessly childish behavior in view of the public eye, the new Administration, and the incoming Congress.
Considering that it was a Democratic administration coming in, this really is the best possible team that he could have expected. In fact, it’s pretty good even in an absolute sense, given their sympathy to both space settlement and NewSpace, which of course could be one of Mike’s problems with them. It’s quite likely that a McCain transition team would be much worse. I never heard any real signs of promise in McCain space policy during the campaign other than that Steidle was one of his advisors. There’s certainly nothing in McCain’s history to indicate that he would do anything interesting in space. It just happens that a lot (though by no means all) of the most devoted space activists are Democrats. Let’s hope they can make more happen this time than they did in the Clinton administration.