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Tue, Dec 23, 2008

NASA Hangs In Limbo On Obama Transition

Agency Awaits Griffin's Next Move, Constellation's Future

Widely rumored development problems with NASA's next-generation manned space program, early campaign promises by President-elect Brack Obama to trim spending on space exploration, and reports of head-butting between the transition team and Administrator Michael Griffin are causing uncertainty within NASA.

The Washington Post reports Griffin, a brilliant but confrontational rocket engineer, has said he does not expect to be retained as administrator. Questions also surround the Constellation program, including a return of US astronauts to the moon and possibly a first manned mission to Mars.

The Post reports Griffin has made it clear that he has no interest in staying if it means a significant shift in strategy. But transition team bean counters want to look at saving money by scrapping the troublesome Ares I rocket, and instead upgrading the legacy Delta IV or Atlas V to make them safe for human spaceflight.

The Post adds it has exchanged e-mails with Griffin, asking whether such a change in direction would trigger his resignation... and got, essentially, a yes.

"NASA's purpose is to produce technical solutions to achieve space policy goals enunciated from above," Griffin responded. "If agency management cannot be trusted to do that, they should be replaced. Specifying solutions from outside the agency cannot possibly work."

On the issue of resistance to working with the Obama transition team, Griffin memoed NASA employees to denounce a recent Orlando Sentinel article which described a "red-faced" confrontation with the Obama team. The transition team point person with NASA is former NASA Administrator Lori Garver.

Underlying the other controversies is Obama's early campaign position advocating a five-year delay in returning to the moon, to free up federal funding for education.

There's no shortage of passionate bloggers and internal leaks to feed the controversies at NASA in the last month of the Bush administration. But the Post reports that what will happen after January 20th is still a toss-up.

Or, as As Scott Pace, the new director of the Space Policy Institute, tells the paper, "Those who talk don't know, and those who know don't talk."

FMI: www.nasa.gov

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