Griffin Describes Urgent NASA Decisions

Jan 14, 2009
By Jefferson Morris

The White House and Congress face a number of imminent decisions concerning NASA in 2009, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin says, including whether the agency will endure another full-year continuing resolution, as well as decisions on the future of the International Space Station (ISS) beyond 2015.

Griffin warned of the consequences if the continuing resolution (CR) currently funding NASA - which essentially freezes spending at prior-year levels and amounts to a cut of several hundred million dollars - is extended beyond its current cutoff of March 15. "If we're going to have a CR for the remainder of FY '09, we're going to have contractor layoffs," he said. "Unequivocally."

Also, a final decision must be made soon about whether the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) will fly to the ISS or not, and how that flight will be paid for, Griffin said during a Space Foundation breakfast in Washington Jan. 13.

AMS is an experiment managed by the Department of Energy to study charged particles in cosmic rays. It was designed to be carried up on the shuttle and attached to the outside of the ISS. But since it would take up 25 percent of the shuttle's payload bay volume, the experiment was bumped in favor of higher-priority cargo during the manifesting squeeze that took place following the White House's decision to retire the shuttle in 2010. The move prompted an outcry from scientists and sympathetic lawmakers (Aerospace DAILY, Feb. 29).

Congressional authorizers have since ordered NASA to insert a flight into the manifest to deliver AMS, although the money still must be provided. There is an 18-month integrated timeline, which means the final decision must be made no later than this spring, according to Griffin.

President-elect Barack Obama has expressed support for adding an AMS flight, which Griffin thinks is "great." However, "if they want to fly the flight, someone has to send money ... because right now it's not on the books," he said.

This year is also when the station's future beyond 2015 must be factored into the federal budget, according to Griffin. "Whether or not we're really supporting the space station partnership depends on whether there's money in the budget supporting it or not," he said.

A final decision also must be made by the summer whether the shuttle will retire on schedule in 2010 or be extended to close the projected gap in U.S. human spaceflight capability before the introduction of the Orion/Ares system, according to Griffin.

NASA has estimated that an infusion of about $4 billion into the Constellation program could move Orion/Ares up about a year from its currently scheduled 2015 debut, while the shuttle could be kept flying twice a year past 2010 for an annual cost of $3 billion. The agency's analysis of options has been delivered to the incoming administration, Griffin said.

Griffin, who has not been asked to remain as administrator by the Obama team, is due to resign from NASA Jan. 20. Associate Administrator Chris Scolese will serve as acting administrator until a formal successor is named.

Michael Griffin photo: NASA

AVIATION WEEK Copyright 2008, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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