NASA Administrator Desperate To Save Constellation
passionate? The search for a new NASA administrator may have just
kicked into high gear, as current agency chief Michael Griffin is
reportedly making things quite difficult for members of the Obama
The Orlando Sentinel reports Griffin has repeatedly butted heads
with Lori Garver, the former NASA associate administrator chosen to
lead the space transition team, over the trouble-plagued
Constellation program -- NASA's next-generation quest to return to
the moon, and Griffin's pet project.
To that end, NASA employees and contractors report being told by
Griffin what they should tell the transition team... and, not to
criticize the Constellation program within earshot of anyone
connected with the incoming Obama administration. Sources -- who
asked for anonymity -- tell the paper NASA managers have been seen
taking "copious" notes during meetings between transition staffers
and NASA underlings.
The six-member transition team -- comprised of people
well-versed in space policy, but lacking in the nuts-and-bolts
knowledge prized by engineers like Griffin -- has been tasked to
seek out areas where NASA's next-generation manned space program
could pose problems for the Obama team... and, perhaps as a lesser
priority, to find solutions.
Unfortunately for Griffin, Constellation -- and the Ares I
rocket, in particular -- isn't lacking for such problems,
as ANN has often reported.
Griffin initially appeared to support the team's efforts, even
issuing a memo to NASA employees telling them "to answer questions
promptly, openly and accurately." Things went downhill soon after,
however, when transition members asked Griffin's team to put a
pricetag on scrapping Ares outright.
They also asked what it would cost to ramp up efforts to send
astronauts into space onboard Orion space capsules sooner
than the current 2015 timeframe... but to Griffin, the writing was
on the wall. The Sentinel reports the NASA chief called around to
various Constellation contractors, telling them to support the Ares
program and to not suggest alternatives. Many of those companies,
perhaps fearful of retaliation, have followed those orders.
NASA has also upped the internal PR campaign in support of
Constellation. In a teleconference last month entitled, "Staying
the Course on Constellation," NASA managers stressed the technology
and design behind Area are sound... and changing course now would
only undermine what has already been accomplished.
"If NASA appears to be wavering by not staying the course...
this would cause a loss of public and stakeholder confidence in
NASA," an outline of the presentation read. That message
contradicted an earlier strategy, however, in which Griffin
suggested the Obama administration "could take ownership of the
(Constellation) program and 're-brand' it as their own with minor
Tensions reportedly came to a head at a recent gathering at the
NASA library, to promote a new book co-written by space historian
John Logsdon. The George Washington University professor told a
group of people he had recently learned John F. Kennedy's
transition team had ignored what NASA officials told them about the
United States' prospects in space... a situation Griffin perhaps
found too close to home.
"I wish the Obama team would come and talk to me," witnesses
report Griffin said, in a voice loud enough to carry across the
room. One of the people who heard the comment was transition team
member Alan Ladwig... who shouted back "Well, we're here now,
Soon after that exchange, Garver reportedly confronted Griffin
in a spirited discussion. "Mike, I don’t understand what the
problem is. We are just trying to look under the hood," Garver
"If you are looking under the hood, then you are calling me a
liar," Griffin replied. "Because it means you don't trust what I
say is under the hood."
Griffin was also overheard at the party saying Garver is "not
qualified" to lead the transition team; during an earlier hearing,
Garver said a "change" was going to come to NASA, and all-but
confirmed a new administrator would be part of that change.
Few expect Griffin -- who was hand-picked by President George W.
Bush in 2005 to spearhead the Constellation moon initiative -- to
remain on as administrator under President Obama. For his part,
though, Griffin has said he wants to stay... but only "under the
right circumstances," namely, with Constellation alive and
Caught between a rock and an administrator, Logsdon took a
pragmatic approach in attempting to summarize the situation.
"There is a natural tension built into this situation... Mike is
dead-on convinced that the current approach to the program is the
right one. And Lori's job is to question that for Mr. Obama," he
told the Sentinel. "The Obama team is not going to walk in and take
Mike’s word for it."
Apparently, Griffin agrees -- as he has told Garver he wants a
private meeting with Obama, to plead his case directly to the