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Fri, Feb 15, 2008

NASA's Griffin Defends Choice To Return To Moon

Critics Say Agency Has 'Been There, Done That'

It's somewhat ironic to accuse a space agency of not reaching far enough towards the stars... but that's exactly what critics of NASA's plans to return to the moon are alleging.

And, frankly, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin is sick of hearing them complain.

"I'm always intrigued by the idea that since we've spent a few days on the moon that the place is now uninteresting for all future time and that we should ignore it and head straight for Mars," Griffin told lawmakers Wednesday, reports Florida Today. The NASA chief also dismissed criticism of NASA's plan from a conference of scientists at Stanford University, as "foolish."

Griffin defended his agency's plans in a session before the House Science and Technology Committee, regarding NASA's budget request for fiscal year 2009. The panel is usually friendly territory for the NASA chief... but Griffin found himself once again defending the plan, to reach incrementally into the heavens.

Some experts say NASA should instead focus on sending spacecraft to asteroids -- or directly to Mars -- instead of visiting a place astronauts have already been, and stopped visiting 35 years ago. Griffin counters a cautious return to extraorbital space is called for.

"I regard that as foolish, frankly," Griffin said of the group's statements. "The moon is three days and a quarter-million miles from home. When we return to the moon, we will have not been there for 50 years."

Lawmakers also questioned the "mismatch" between President Bush's call for a significant boost to America's presence in space, "and the resources it's been given." Committee chairman Bart Gordon termed the administration's outlook "a musical chairs approach to science funding."

Last week, the White House proposed a $17.6 billion budget request for NASA in fiscal year 2009. The request includes $300 million more than last year's authorization, but also a cut to the space shuttle program -- and no money to support manned missions after the shuttle is retired in 2010. NASA's next manned spacecraft won't fly until 2015 at the earliest.

"After factoring in inflation, NASA's resources are shrinking in real terms while the agency is charged with maintaining America's preeminence as a spacefaring nation," said Florida Congressman Tom Feeney, whose district includes the Kennedy Space Center.

Griffin countered the budget request is "sufficient" to support NASA's programs. "Despite the demands of this once-in-a-generation transition, this budget request provides an appropriate balance between human space flight, Earth and space science, and aeronautics research," he said.

The administrator also took steps to alleviate criticism of NASA's current plan to rely on Russia to fill the spaceflight gap once the shuttle is retired.. He vehemently opposes proposals to continue shuttle missions past that date, as have been suggested by some, to close that gap -- saying there simply isn't enough money to go around.

"Delaying the space shuttle retirement does not solve that problem, in fact, it exacerbates it," Griffin said. "Money spent flying the shuttle after 2010 is not available for Ares and Orion, which causes the gap between shuttle retirement and deployment of new systems to grow and with it, the duration of dependence on Russian
systems."

Got all that? Because Griffin really doesn't want to repeat himself.

FMI: www.nasa.gov

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