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Mike Griffin's Frustration

I was going to have some comments about the administrator's leaked email, but haven't had the time. Fortunately, over in comments at Space politics, "" picks up my slack:

He didn't mean for it to be shown to the outside world, but the revisionism, hypocrisy, and self-adulation in Griffin's email is pretty shocking, even this late into the ESAS/Constellation debacle. It's either that, or he's been lying about his real positions for a long time. Griffin wrote:

"Exactly as I predicted, events have unfolded in a way that makes it clear how unwise it was for the US to adopt a policy of deliberate dependence on another power for access to the ISS."

Griffin never predicted this. Instead, Griffin repeatedly stated that the VSE -- including its 2010 date for Shuttle retirement -- and the accompanying NASA Authorization Act of 2005 provide the nation with its best civil space policy in decades. In fact, Griffin said so as recently as January 2008 in an STA speech:

"I consider this to be the best civil space policy to be enunciated by a president, and the best Authorization Act to be approved by the Congress, since the 1960s."

See here.

In fact, just before becoming NASA Administrator, Griffin even _led_ a study that argued as one of its central conclusions/recommendations that the Space Shuttle could and should be retired after ISS assembly reached the stage of "U.S. Core Complete", certainly no later than 2010.

See here.

If Griffin was really so prescient as to predict the situation that NASA's human space flight programs are in now, then he should have spoken up years ago instead of repeatedly signing onto studies and policies that are flawed according to the argument in his email. In fact, it would have been wrong for him to have lobbied for the job of NASA Administrator to begin with if he really thought that the President's policy was so compromised.

Griffin should resign immediately and apologize if his email reflects what he's actually believed all these years. If not, and his email represents how Griffin has recently changed his views, then Griffin should admit that he was wrong to sign onto the policy, argue that the policy needs to be revised, and resign if it is not revised in a manner that he can support.

Griffin also wrote:

"In a rational world, we would have been allowed to pick a Shuttle retirement date to be consistent with Ares/Orion availability"

Griffin is confused about both chronology and causality in this statement. The Shuttle retirement date came first -- as a recommendation about Shuttle operability and certification in the CAIB report and then as policy in the VSE. The replacement for Shuttle (originally CEV in the VSE and then Ares/Orion in ESAS) came second and was supposed to have a schedule that was responsive to that Shuttle retirement date.

In a rational world, a rational NASA Administrator would have picked a rational Shuttle replacement that could be developed rapidly and fielded soon after the 2010 deadline for Shuttle retirement using the available budgetary and technical resources. Instead, Griffin chose an Ares/Orion system that is so technically compromised that it can't complete even its preliminary design review before the end of the Bush II Administration and is so costly that it can't be flown operationally within the available budget until 2015 (and even that date has only a limited chance of being met).

Gemini took less than four years to develop and fly. In the same amount of time, Ares I/Orion will not complete its preliminary design review. That is not rational.

Apollo took seven years to develop and fly (to the Moon). In the same amount of time, Ares I/Orion will still be (at least) three years from flying (to the ISS). That is not rational.

Griffin also wrote:

"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."

Griffin is just making up history with this statement. NASA was never asked to "deploy Ares/Orion" at all. Rather, the VSE directed NASA to develop a Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV, which eventually becameOrion), and provided a budget that supported CEV development. The VSE never directed NASA to develop a new launch vehicle that duplicated the nation's military and commercial capabilities with yet another medium- to intermediate-lift launcher (Ares), and the budget never supported such a development. Ares I needlessly busted the VSE budget box from day one, requiring the termination of billions of dollars of ISS research and exploration technology development just to start its design activities.

And why does anyone have to ask Griffin to deploy a Shuttle replacement as early as possible when the VSE gives him the flexibility to develop a replacement anytime before 2014? Is the NASA Administrator really so unambitious and lacking in initiative that, instead of being given a deadline (which he's blown by a year anyway), he also has to be told by the White House to execute a critical replacement program as rapidly as possible?

And then Griffin wrote:

"... for OSTP and OMB, retiring the Shuttle is a jihad rather than an engineering and program management decision."

First, for the head of any federal agency to use the term "jihad" in written reference to the White House offices that set policy for and fund their agency - especially when the same White House has been leading a seven-year war against Islamic extremism - demonstrates such extremely poor judgement that it brings into question whether that agency head is still fit to serve.

Second, the 2010 date for Shuttle retirement was effectively set by the CAIB's expert judgment about and extensive investigation into the vehicle's operational and certification issues. OSTP and OMB (and NASA under the prior Administrator) simply reiterated the 2010 date in the VSE. If Griffin wants to challenge the 2010 Shuttle retirement date, then he needs to challenge the engineering and program management analysis and expertise of the 13-member CAIB and its 32 staff, not OSTP and OMB. OSTP and OMB read and followed the CAIB report on this issue. Apparently Griffin did not and has not.

The only things OSTP and OMB are guilty of is not fulfilling all of the White House's funding commitments to the VSE and not stopping Ares I/Orion at the outset when those projects busted the budget, or later when they ran into insurmountable technical issues and schedule delays that made them programmatically and politically useless.

Griffin also wrote:

"Further, they [OSTP and OMB] actively do not want the ISS to be sustained, and have done everything possible to ensure that it would not be."

For the same NASA Administrator who wiped out billions of dollars of ISS research and who referred to the ISS as a "mistake" in the press to criticize White House offices about their lack of support for the ISS is the height of hypocrisy. See (add http://www):

Griffin needs to stop flailing in the political winds, make up his mind, and stick with a consistent position on the value (or lack thereof) of the ISS.

Finally, and this is a technical nit compared to the issues above, but towards the end, Griffin also wrote:

"The argument that we need to get Shuttle out of the way so that conversion of the VAB/MAF for Constellation can proceed is similarly specious."

This totally misses the point. The VAB and MAF are just really huge shells that NASA can build anything in. It's the launch and rocket test infrastructure (the pads, the mobile launcher platform, and test stands) that the Shuttle and Constellation system share, and which Constellation has to make modifications to, that will interminably slow Constellation development if Shuttle continues to make use of those facilities.

My kingdom for a rational NASA Administrator who reads and follows policy direction, develops programs within their allotted budgets, encourages and listens to independent technical advice, and has the capacity to admit when the current plan is fubar and adjust course in a timely manner.

Maybe in the next administration, regardless of who wins. But don't bet on it. The only area in which I disagree with these comments concerns the Shuttle retirement date. As I noted in a later comment over there:

"...why did they pick 2010? What is magic about that date (particularly when no one really knows what 'certification' means)?

I had always assumed that the CAIB thought that the Shuttle should be retired ASAP, and that if it wasn't, it would have to be 'recertified' for longer life (ignoring the issue that the term was undefined). But ASAP meant no sooner than ISS completion, which (I think even then) was scheduled for 2010 (at least after the Columbia loss and standown). Hence the date (it doesn't hurt that it's a round number).

The Shuttle doesn't suddenly become less safe to fly in 2011, or even 2012. If there is a degradation, it is a gradual one, not a binary condition, and there is no obvious 'knee in the curve.' The date was driven by non-Shuttle considerations, IMO. If someone on the CAIB (e.g., Dr. Day) knows otherwise, I'd be interested to know that."

And if Mike Griffin is now frustrated, and wants to know who to blame, he'll see him the next time he shaves.



memomachine wrote:


IMO the ISS is a dead weight.

Interested Observer wrote:

I would add that Dr. Griffin brought this on himself and that this is his typical end of job ass covering.

Brock wrote:

Good essay. It's opening line could have been "Dr. Griffin continues his well-established habit of ignoring well documented facts."

Habitat Hermit wrote:

That comment by is dead on. I don't always agree with his take on things (or yours ^_^) but it's usually thoroughly reasoned even so.

I think I understand your general point about 2010 even though I don't agree fully but there's something I'm missing, something that seems like a sort of mild contradiction. If I've gotten it right you argue that 2010 isn't any sort of "magic" point in time in relation to safety issues and I agree fully with that. You also argue that the CAIB recommendation/conclusion and deadline were given as "end it or get this done as quickly as possible" and that seems very reasonable and intelligent to me. However based on those two things shouldn't the conclusion be that a complete thorough check of the orbiters would be overdue after 2010 rather than sort of exempt?

Edward Wright wrote:

I wonder how the great "space policy analyst with a BA in history" will react to this?

His hero without fault Mike Griffin is now attacking his other hero without fault George W. Bush.

My prediction: Whatever Mark says will 1) be irrational, incoherent, and shrill, and 2) blame everything on the "Internet rocket club" or the evil libertarians.

red wrote: for NASA Administrator, anyone?

At least he/she should write a book on ESAS.

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on September 9, 2008 7:36 AM.

Nomenclature was the previous entry in this blog.

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