NASA's Griffin butting heads with Obama?

By Phil Plait | December 11, 2008 11:15 am

Rumors are flying right now that Mike Griffin, NASA’s Administrator, is causing some friction with President-elect Obama’s transition team for the space agency. The Orlando Sentinel is reporting considerable strife going on between Griffin, who apparently is trying to save the Constellation manned flight program, and the team Obama has selected to help NASA move into the new era.

Obama and Griffin

There are reports of arguments, back-room meetings, managing of messages, and so on. The reports in the article are anonymous (though from multiple unnamed sources), so take them with some skepticism. However, there is also a ring of truth to them in my ear.

Griffin must know his chance of staying on as NASA chief is very low; his ridiculous statements about global warming (and luke-warm apology later) pretty much guarantee that. I imagine Obama has quite a list of potential replacements, and if I know that, so does Griffin. The Constellation program — the next step in manned space flight, designed to get us back to the Moon and eventually to Mars — is Griffin’s baby, and I would guess he’s concerned that the new Obama Administration may attack it. This would understandably make Griffin defensive, and he would do what he can to ensure the program will continue after he is gone.

I’m concerned about that too, in fact. Constellation has problems, and of course is over budget, but I think it’s the right move for the space agency right now. The Shuttle is being retired (as well it should; it was originally a good idea, but even by the time Columbia first launched in 1981 the system was a white elephant), and love it or hate it, the manned space exploration program must go on. That’s where the money is from Congress, and that’s what the public thinks of when they think NASA. I wish NASA would do a better job of promoting the unmanned program — remember, if you read this blog you probably are predisposed to supporting scientific exploration, which makes you a person who is not a typical member of the public! — but until then, the manned work is the agency’s bread and butter.

I have been and probably always will be ambivalent about Griffin. He has done some magnificent work at NASA, but has also really stepped in it. I still wonder what his role was in the Deutsch affair, and I’ve disagreed with his spin on other issues as well. But NASA has done OK under his command, which, let’s face it, has seen some very difficult times. I hope that if and when Obama picks a new person to head NASA, it’s again an engineer like Griffin, someone who has had their sleeves rolled up before when it comes to working on the space program. And I hope that Griffin makes that possible as well. Obama’s and Griffin’s teams may have a lot to disagree about, but I hope they can work that out and understand that the overall, overarching goal is to keep NASA strong, vigorous, and healthy.

The future of humanity is in space. Politics should be making that easier to achieve, not harder.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Piece of mind, Politics

Comments (84)

  1. Do you know enough people at NASA to hazard a guess as to who would be a good replacement?

  2. Jason Heldenbrand

    I think now, if NASA wants to stay in business, they are going to need a politician. Someone who can convince Congress to give them the money they need and be a charismatic enough figure to convince the American people as well. All the same, I know Obama and know that he doesn’t get hot headed over arguments with people and his recent cabinet selections lead me to believe he’d make a good decision here as well.

  3. Thanny

    How about Alan Stern?

  4. Todd W.


    Hmm…charismatic figure…Neil DeGrasse Tyson?

  5. Buzz Alrdin. If anyone gets out of line, he’ll let the fists fly!

  6. Obama is going to gut NASA, he needs that money for the welfare state. This has been plain since the day he announced for President. He was saying it right up until the Florida primary.

    We’re looking at probably a decade long setback in space exploration.

    But we’ll have free cheese from the government!

  7. I know Carey says that partly in jest but a person with a degree of space celebrity like a Buzz Aldrin might be what NASA needs to improve its public image and political clout.

    Sally Ride, perhaps?

  8. Boomer
  9. Stark

    I disagree about NASA needing a politician at the helm, and I get the impression that Obama does too with some of his other appointments. Agencies should not being having to play the politics part of the game – they are an extension of the executive branch and it is (IMO) the job of the President and his staff political voice of the agencies. We seem to forget that while there are department heads the real boss of all the executive branch agencies is the President. As such it should be his job to play the games and the directors of the agencies job to make sure the Presidents vision is carried out in the most cost effective and productive way possible. This is how things used to be done I might add – back when presidents selected subject matter experts to head departments rather than using the posts solely as rewards for political lackies (yes, I know there always been some political rewards involved in department heads – but at least they used to try to pick someone vaguely qualified for the post).

    The rumored selection of Steven Chu to head DOE, if it turns out to be accurate, gives me hope that we are returning to the much more sensible practice of placing subject matter experts in positions of power over science agencies. His rumored pick for EPA head, Lisa Jackson – a Princeton educated Chemical Engineer – while not completely without controversy is another solid science savvy choice. I hope the trend continues with NASA. Moreover I hope Obama is smart enough to listen to what these folks have to say rather than letting personal dogma overrule science – like we’ve seen for the last 8 years.

  10. Egaeus


    Cost of Iraq war to date: $610 billion

    Entire NASA budget from 1958-2008 in 2007 dollars: $806 billion

    What was your point again?

  11. Gary Ansorge

    The following link is about using MagLev to provide the initial boost to launch space craft, reducing the initial load of fuel and oxidizers required to get the space craft off the ground. There are other potential solutions to this problem, such as a ground based power source to beam power via micro waves to a craft, which then uses air as its reaction mass for the beginning of the ships travel, switching over to onboard fuel,etc, for its injection into earth orbit. When I read about the technical problems associated with the Constellation program, ie, ramping up a new launch vehicle, I wonder why they’re not pursuing mag lev with vigor. Must have something to do with money and,,,”faith”???ie, the belief that we can actually come up with workable solutions that don’t require a whole new class of chemically fueled rockets,,,

    Rockets were my first space directed enthusiasm but now I want something much more efficient.

    Jim Howard: Since I’m poor, cheese sounds good, but since I’m a progressive, space is a necessity. I fully expect Obama to understand that, which is why I voted for him.

    GAry 7

  12. @Egaeus: Yes, but the Iraq War is vital to the security and existence of the United States. *tries to keep a straight face*

  13. RCarboni

    @Jim Howard:

    Obama said very clearly he fully supports NASA’s Manned & Unmanned programs and that Manned/Unmanned missions are important to national prestige, etc. and must continue.

    I have a hell of a lot more faith in his plans for science programs/NASA/etc. than McCain’s/Bush’s idiotic anti-science, anti-intellectual policies.

  14. justcorbly

    The Constellation program is just one of a number of projects that Bush launched and then failed to fund appropriately. He’s not the brightest guy on the block but at least he knows that few people will follow up to make sure he antea up the cash to pay for the Big Shiny New Thing he’s announced.

    Given the economic disaster that is Bush’s real legacy, I don’t see NASA getting a serious budget bump in the forseeable future. So, if we are to maintain a human presence in space, then the Constellation program schedule is stretched or Constellation is replaced with something else.

    Fundamentally, I do not think NASA and the nation should be building capability that is tied to one particular mission profile. That is, we’ve been deciding that we want to go someplace and then we create capability purpose-built to get us there.

    That’s the wrong way to go. It’s much as if the Navy didn’t maintain a fleet but built new vessels for every new destination,

    We need the capability to put people and cargo in LEO. We need a capability to put and support a permanent human presence on the Moon. We need a capability to send humans to Mars and local asteroids. These capabilities need to be maintained permanently, not abandoned every time one mission or another achieves its goal.

  15. justcorbly

    Ride is feasible. Glenn and Aldrin are now too old.

  16. Cheyenne

    This is such an obvious post on my part….sorry.

    “love it or hate it, the manned space exploration program must go on”. Why? Really, why?

    We should support manned space missions because that’s what the public thinks of when they think of NASA and that’s the way to funding NASA? This is weird circular thinking from the agency.

    I’ll just be another troll to state that NASA could do 10 times the science and focus much better on answering the really monumental questions we have if they scrapped sending people up and sent out 10-20 times the amount of probes and satellites.

    NASA’s own webpage on the so called “science” it does up in space on the ISS is, forgive me, a bit of a joke. What they would do on the moon is equally useless (and sorry, no, it really isn’t “inspirational” like back in the Apollo days- it’s just re-visiting a completely dead rock after 40 years).

    Think of the 10 biggest science questions you would like answered. Do you think any of those are going to be figured out by putting people in space? If they are then I’ll support manned missions. If not then manned missions are not just a waste but a severe impediment to accomplishing much greater things.

    I’m being critical of NASA because I want them to become much better at what they do by the way (not that little Cheyenne will change anything but still). I hope whomever Obama appoints to head NASA is more receptive to this kind of a message than Griffin was.

    Flopping off my itsy bitsy soapbox now…

  17. Stark

    Bunny, between here and that other science blog which shall go unnamed in deference to our host… you’ve been in rare form lately. Your killin me… keep it up! :)

  18. Stark

    Cheyenne, I can agree with you mostly. However, mankind needs to go into space. Eventually, like it or not, this rock WILL become uninhabitable. Either through mistakes of man or simply acts of nature (See Phil’s new book for examples). When that day comes I’d like to think we will be prepared, as a species, to survive away from our species’ cradle. The day mankind needs to be off this rock may be millenia in the future… or it could be just around the corner. Either way, we have the knowledge now to make it possible for our species to survive the death of Earth… seems to me like a reasonable investment of what really amounts to very minimal resources to guarantee the future of the species.

    And besides, you know it’d be totally cool to drop some guys on Mars for a look around. 😉

  19. Phil, I like the two graphics you used — looks like Obama is saying “I am not going to take yer crap”.

    Jokes aside, very much looking forward to seeing what move (if any) Griffin makes next. Obviously Obama and friends will do something sooner or later.

  20. Charles Boyer

    “What they would do on the moon is equally useless (and sorry, no, it really isn’t “inspirational” like back in the Apollo days- it’s just re-visiting a completely dead rock after 40 years).”

    For one thing, the Apollo moon program was far more than just “inspirational.” Only one willfully ignorant of Apollo’s history would deny that the spinoff technologies from Apollo haven’t had a major effect on the lives of people on the Earth.

    For example: the development of the guidance package for the Apollo spacecraft spurred on a nasacent microprocessor industry. At one point, Apollo-related development used over 60% of the available global supply of microprocessors and in fact the mission requirements spurred on development of new microprocessor technology. In short, Apollo helped kick-start the personal computer revolution that came along less than one decade later.

    And Cheyenne, what are you using to type your opinion? That’s right — a direct descendant of Apollo.

    But since manned spaceflight has no payoffs, well then, let’s get rid of it.

  21. justcorbly

    Cheyenne, et al, space exploration isn’t about science. It’s about people exploring space. Once they’re in space, people can do all the science they want.

  22. Cheyenne

    Oh my gosh I was not knocking Apollo at all! I think Apollo was epic and amazing and extraordinary and one of the grandest things this nation has done! Without a doubt. Of course there were spinoffs, more than you mentioned.

    But that was then. People today partly justify going back to the moon for reasons of the need for human exploration and vague notions of “inspiration” (and then things like He3 mining and radio telescopes- which don’t need people anyway). I don’t think that flies now. I don’t think NASA is justifying manned missions at this point. And I think it’s suffering because of it. I want them to do greater things than waste time sending people into LOE for no reason.

    @Stark- yeah, it would be cool to drop some guys on Mars. But as of now, if we did it we’d drop off 6 people that, because of radiation, would likely be mental vegetables that would quickly get cancer. Going to Mars is so much more difficult than people realize. Even Phil wrote a comment saying that he didn’t support sending people there (maybe much farther down the road, but not anytime soon).

  23. Utakata

    @ GAry 7:

    I thought that the only way to create an effective linear moter (MagLev) of such magnetude would require the use of super conducting mechanics…which inturn, would require things close to be absolute zero in order it to work. Therefore, making the cost of such almost if not more so than the use of fuel alone to launch it…

    …at least to my limited knowledge of the subject. So feel free to enlighten. :)

  24. Summer

    Here’s my two cents in reply to the manned missions over the unmanned. It comes straight from this blog a week ago. 12/03/08

    “I stood there thinking of all that, and I couldn’t help it. I reached up and touched the back of the mirror. I laughed at myself a little; a skeptic connecting with a chunk of glass. I didn’t feel any vibrations, no sense of Hubble’s energy, no rapport with the history.
    And yet… we’re still apes, we humans. We can see something, hear it, taste it; but it’s our fingers that relay so much of the sense of what’s around us. Nothing New Agey or superstitious, just a simian need to fulfill the part of the brain that desires the tactile sensation of connection.
    But still. Touching that glass put me there. That part of my brain firing up gave me the extra dimension of sense, the understanding, the knowing, and (yes) the feeling the history of the place. And there is history at Mt. Wilson; our grand explorations of the cosmos took a major leap there. When I reached out my hand, that’s what I was experiencing, if only vicariously.
    I remember it better now than I would have otherwise. I can still picture it all, can remember how it felt, and my sense of awe remains unabated.
    It was, simply, cool.
    And even a skeptic responds to that.”

    Manned missions are us, up there touching space. I may not get to personally touch it, but to know that others do it makes it so much more to me, than just probes.

  25. @Gary 7:

    Ever see “When Worlds Collide”? Though it wasn’t mag-lev, which has been featured in many classic SF novels, etc, the basics are there.
    Also, whatever happened to using high powered lasers as launch devices? I have my Kelly Freas signature on an old ANALOG issue that featured it on the cover.


  26. CLM

    Buh bye, Mikey.

    After hearing Obama’s choice for Energy Secretary, Nobel laureate Dr. Stephen Chu, speak, I think Obama is quite capable of picking a great replacement for Griffin. I’d like to see NASA taken off of it’s starvation diet. I want to see a manned space program, a return to the Moon and trips to Mars, but a robust unmanned program could be used to inspire us and lead the way.

  27. I’m always torn on manned space exploration. I think the computer nerd in me would rather we figure out how to upload ourselves into computers instead and become the spacecraft, but that might just be because I’m getting older and achier.

  28. Veritas36

    Obama will pick somebody who will launch the mothballed DISCVR climate satellite.

  29. Development of manned launch systems needs to continue for two reasons: first, man-rated systems are not the same as other launch systems, because your monkey payload has to reach space alive and has a lower tolerance for hazards than mechanicals; and second, we are going to need human access to space eventually, and deployment is so MUCH easier when you’ve already done the R&D.

    That said, Constellation stinks as a system and has since it was announced. Its overall design goal is to reuse all of NASA’s existing tech, buffed up and glued together with modern materials engineering and state-of-the-art avionics. This isn’t a bad plan if all you’re doing is building commodity payload boosters, but it doesn’t really work if your target is a next-generation, long-duration manned exploration system. We need some serious innovation to get to that stage, and Constellation ain’t it. And Michael Griffin is not the guy who is going to crack the whip and get NASA off it’s butt.

  30. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    “love it or hate it, the manned space exploration program must go on”. Why? Really, why?

    Perhaps not must rather than should.

    Why? Because human exploration and human technology is what the paying public expects and relate most to. Otherwise you have a science driven program, with little political clout, narrow outreach and correspondingly much alienation.

    If you think the LHC “destroy the world” craze was ridiculous, imagine a robotic only technology program a decade on as it is exposed to the greens idealistic politics, what with radioisotope thermoelectric generators launched “over cities” and, say, “biohazard” Mars rocks returned. AFAIU Moon rocks were transported by astronauts, so the political process was relatively minor, IIRC a few days quarantine against the ridiculously remote possibility of introducing foreign life. Maybe it won’t happen again, but human affairs tend to repeat themselves, in which case science would take a hit as usual.

    Plus, I imagine many persons grew up fantasizing about the possibility to become an astronaut. Maybe manned space exploration gets more support than other cultural endeavors, but it shouldn’t get nil either IMO.

  31. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    the use of super conducting


    So the SC accelerator magnet technology, took, what, 25 years or so to get to LHC from scratch. (Googling a paper speculating in LHC upgrade and mentioning the technology maturation. And there is a paper from 15 years back reporting on preliminary studies for LHC.) And that propels a bunch of focusable particles which may loose focus or become involved in a magnet quench from now and then, not a stressed rigid body which carries a couple of sensitive “eggs” together with upper stages of hazardous fuel mixture.

    Yes, well, I thought the shuttle replacement was going to go up in the next few years.

  32. I’m surprised that Cheyenne hasn’t mentioned the most obvious candidate for new head of NASA

    Karen Nyberg!

    Womanned space exploration FTW!

  33. jae

    Griffin is RIGHT about global warming.

  34. Cheyenne

    Seriously Mchl- Don’t break out the kryponite. I will completely succumb to supporting all aspects of womanned space exploration if Karen Nyberg so much as glanced in my direction.

    I’m feeling weak already….darn it.

  35. Mchl

    Just remember that I saw her first 😛

  36. Daffy


    Do you mean the welfare state where the government sends endless supplies of money to the filthy rich? We already live there. Thank Bush.

  37. mk

    I wish NASA would do a better job of promoting the unmanned program

    Don’t we all! But saying that until they do we should just continue to waste insane amounts of money on manned flights makes no sense at all.

  38. tacitus

    If NASA is smart, they will find a way to be part of the massive infusion of spending on infrastructure that Obama is planning in an attempt to haul us out of recession. He’s going to spend the money anyway, so if there is a way, on its merits (not political expediency), for NASA to contribute to the effort then perhaps some extra funding will come their way.

  39. JoeSmithCA

    I remember some computer game which had a very memorable quote:

    “Now it is time for man to leave the cradle of Earth or die trying in the attempt.”

    I’m for both manned and unmanned, we need to progress in both. Smaller, cheaper, faster unmanned probes and manned exploration. If nothing else, just so we know we can get off this rock someday if we have to.

  40. mk


    You say that we need to continue manned exploration because one day earth will be uninhabitable. Mars and the moon currently are now uninhabitable. You think we should spend untold trillions on learning how to make them habitable so when this planet becomes like them we can fly there and live on as a species. Why not just do whatever we would do on Mars or the moon or where ever down here? I mean we’re already here! Uninhabitable is uninhabitable is uninhabitable. Why fly millions of miles away to try and make the uninhabitable habitable… we could just do it here.

  41. Mchl

    It’s not about making unhabitable habitable. It’s about putting some of the eggs into another basket.

  42. Stark

    MK – that’s a valid argument for climate change scenarios, yes. NASA can and does contribute greatly in this arena already.

    There are however, a number of scenarios that involve rather more drastic planetary death scenarios that cannot always be mitigated over time and prevented from occurring. Things such as super-volcano eruptions, large impacts, nuclear war, etc could all make survival on the planet a real problem for quite some time. As well it should be noted that any technology developed to make survival on an inhospitable alien world viable would in turn be useable here on planet Earth. There is little commercial impetus to develop such systems for terrestrial application but the way manned flight captures the human imagination makes funding these efforts through government a possibility.

    Also, I’m not necessarily saying Mars is where the human race goes to survive – or the moon. I find orbital habitats (think large space stations) are a much more likely emergency scenario for mankind – but that is neither here nor there.

    In short, manned space flight may be less expedient that robotic exploration, but it also forces us to innovate much further and inspires in way robotic flight never will. Inspiration is a key component to making curious science minded individuals, and to me at least, it’s worth the paltry amount we spend on it. In fact, it’s worth 10 times what we spend on it as far as I’m concerned.

  43. Del

    Robert Block, who wrote about the tension between Griffen and Obama’s transition team, seems to write articles that favor extending the Shuttle and dumping Ares. Block reports how the space station as on the cusp of paying off once we get a larger crew that can finally do some significance science. I wonder how much of Block’s reporting about Griffen is biased due to Block’s disagreement with Griffen’s vision for NASA. I hope Block is wrong about all the dissent by anonymous NASA experts on Ares because I certainly disagree throwing money at old projects make any sense.

  44. mk

    If people are not inspired by what we’ve done with the Mars probes and Hubble and a few other nonmanned flight things… Heh. I guess I disagree with your premise. These things are inspiring and much more worthy endeavors. And big nasty asteroids can destroy other planets and big space stations too.

    Furthermore, humans spent millions of years evolving to live, thrive, on Earth. Not big space machines ala Star Trek. Imagine the crazy that would ensue. Nevermind that it is all incredibly fanciful.

  45. Phil, what’s your opinion of Obama’s general favoribility (or lack thereof) towards NASA? I think if he appoints a new administrator with some “star power” it could go a long way in helping revive general public interest. He’s been appointing people with star power as his cabinet members, so I think it’s a definite possibility for NASA Admin.

  46. Mount

    Is Obama trying to Force-choke the Griffin?

  47. Stark

    mk – 100years ago the idea of flying across the Atlantic was incredibly fanciful. The world we live in today was beyond the mind of man and had anybody suggested something even remotely accurate it would have been branded as far more unlikely than “incredibly fanciful”. Nobody could even come close to predicting what we can do today 100 years ago. Things being incredibly fanciful just means we haven’t tried it yet.

    As for impacts happening to other planets…. ummm… so? Your point is? How does the risk of having all of humanity living in one basket, as it were, change by saying that planet killing events can happen elsewhere as well? If we manage to colonize another planet and it gets wiped out humanity on Earth still survives. If we don’t and Earth gets nailed – and it will eventually – then humanity has a real issue on it’s hands. I’m not saying we could do this tomorrow – or even in my lifetime… but not working towards doing so is short sighted in my opinion. The technology is within our grasp, we have only to muster the will to build it.

    BTW – I’m certainly not against robotic exploration – and yes, it can be inspiring… but I suspect that over 40 years from now I won’t be speaking about the Spirit and Opportunity rovers with same sense of awe that my father talks about the first moon landing. Even though what the rover teams accomplished is awe-inspiring it just isn’t on the same scale. There’s a certain detachment involved when it’s just a machine. Almost nobody outside of the mission spent days glued to the every scrap of news they could get regarding the sudden disappearance of Mars Observer… compare that to the public reaction to Apollo 13. The level of inspiration in the general populace cannot be compared between manned and unmanned flight programs.

    Ah well, I suspect we will have to agree to disagree here. That’s cool too. Freedom, ain’t it grand?

  48. Ian

    IMHO: NASA needs a reboot. Format the drive and re-install.

    It is so broken. Constellation is RETARDED. This is the 21st century and the best they can do is spam in a can on a rocket?

    They need two things:

    1- A long-term mission directive, set in stone by legislation, free of pork, and proof against tinkering or meddling by future administrations or legislatures without a serious super-majority vote.
    2- The funding to do it.

    They have neither. The Moon and Mars unfunded mandate from Bush doesn’t count.

    By the time NASA gets to Mars Elon Musk will have a hotel there for them to stay at.

  49. mk


    The inspiration that the Apollo program garnered had more to do with the newness of the entire space program. If we had sent a probe to Mars before any manned events and it was able to do what Spirit and Opportunity have done people would still speak of that in similar reverential tones as they do the Apollo missions today. No doubt.

    There’s a certain “detachment” for you perhaps. Not for most others I would argue. The level of inspiration in the general populace can indeed be compared. If NASA is unable to inspire Americans about what is happening with Hubble, Mars rovers and the like then it is indeed way past time for new leadership.

    In the end, for me, the infinite survival of human beings is not one of my greatest concerns. Human beings “surviving” in tin cans in the sky isn’t what I would really call survival anyway. But we can agree to disagree on this point as well.

  50. When our cost to orbit comes down so that disgruntled folks can leave we will populate space. So our best benefit come from something like MagLev, or the Elevator.

  51. Del

    As you know, the Apollo program wasn’t the first space program. There were lot’s of firsts and newness yet it was man on the moon that inspired. Of course a manned mission to mars will inspire like no robot mission ever will.

  52. Steve A

    *Sigh* This definitely doesn’t help the cause. I have seen the Sentinel sometimes over dramatize events, but this is still not good.

    This does seems to be the case of bad news overshadowing good new again, especially with the Sentinel. They and others are quick to point out problems with Constellation, yet just the day before a piece of very good news about Ares development was only reported on It does give the impression that programs are floundering when actually there are a lot of parts that are moving ahead on time and at cost. Check out Florida Today’s “Space” section and you’ll see developments at KSC going on right now. Not to mention all the successful engine tests that the Sentinel never seems to cover.

    Oh, and for the manned spaceflight haters, especially hose against ISS: I think you really are discounting engineering feats. I do think the ISS got overbilled as a “pure” science station, but it has been tremendous as an engineering testbed. Soon there will be the VASIMR engine tests and deep space internet protocol tests that will be used for a hole host of robotic missions.

    NASA and others are really working hard on all the systems needed for long journeys, and it already seems to be having dividends on Earth. NASA’s sleep studies just found how moonlight affects the sleep cycle, which can be applied to people now. Also, their psychology studies are leading to the development of a computer based system that is getting a lot of interest. Not to mention the development of lunar concrete that will allow for giant telescopes on the dark side of the Moon. And before I forget, while NASA didn’t do it, British scientists developed a simple system very much like Star Trek’s deflector shield to deal with radiation during space travels.

    There is a lot to be learned and I think its often time snobbery over what “real science” is that makes some (not all) dismiss manned flight.

  53. Steve Huntwork


    So far, your ability to predict is getting rather shakey. Instead of being a scientest, you have allowed your political views to fog your vision.

    Have you actually studied the alternative?

    Instead of inventing a new launch vehicle larger than the Apollo Saturn V for the Moon missions, direct launcher has attemped to exploit current hardware to the maximum extent possible.

    In today’s financial environment, Direct Launcher has a much higher probability of acually achieving it’s mission goals.

  54. mk

    Of course a manned mission to mars will inspire like no robot mission ever will.


  55. Charles Boyer

    For those of you against manned space flight, let’s see a robot that could fly up to Hubble and fix it up as good as humans. Here. Now.

  56. T.E.L.

    Not everything must be an epiphany of inspiration to the masses. If robotic exploration keeps the cost down, then exploration may be affordable without a massive budget. There are a number of government agencies which benefit the public at fairly low-cost and without a lot of hoopla. When’s the last time anyone thought the USGS needed to do something spectacular to inspire the public? How about the NOAA? The CDC? The NSF?

  57. T.E.L.


    Let’s see a human who can fly to Voyagers 1 & 2 and repair them. Here. Now.

  58. Steve Huntwork: I don’t understand what you’re talking about with any politics clouding my opinions. FWIW I am a big supporter of private space, including SpaceX.

  59. Charles Boyer, that’s not a good argument. Hubble shouldn’t have been designed to be upgraded. It should have been designed to be simpler and easier, and then we could have made ten of them. Launch ’em one at a time, and you never need to upgrade.

  60. Steve Huntwork

    For the cost of a manned mission to fix the Hubble telescope, a robot with multiple arms and cameras could have been designed for that very specific task. Each and every robotic instrument would have been perfected to perform it’s function in the most efficient way.

    There is no way that humans could perform a job in space better than a robot specifically designed and created for a specialized task.

    With remote controls and video, if something unusual is encountered, there are hundreds of scientist on Earth that can work together and find the optimal solution for the problem.

    Apollo 13 is a perfect example.

  61. Steve Huntwork


    You stated:

    “I’m concerned about that too, in fact. Constellation has problems, and of course is over budget, but I think it’s the right move for the space agency right now. ”

    I have studied the Direct Launcher concept in detail over the years, and it should have been explored by NASA’s management in much more detail.

    Like you, I agree that the Constellation project was Mike Griffin’s baby and will never get funded. It is too large of a step in today’s financial environment.

    I am an old fart and have watched every single NASA mission since Ham the Chimp went into space. Heck, I even got to see Ham a few years later.

    I grew up with the space program and nobody wants it to work again more than me. I am still ASHAMED that the last man on the Moon, left it in 1972.

  62. Richard Alan

    Related to the statement, ” Politics should be making that easier to achieve, not harder”, when you find a government agency in which the politics makes things easier instead of harder, please let me know – I’ll change jobs in a heartbeat!

  63. Steve Huntwork

    “Hubble shouldn’t have been designed to be upgraded. It should have been designed to be simpler and easier, and then we could have made ten of them.”

    The Hubble was a standard “spy” satellite pointing into space instead of the Earth. Since the mirror was designed to focus on ground targets, astronomers did not realize this optical error until it was already in orbit.

    Of course the Hubble was never designed to be upgraded!

  64. T.E.L.


    Uh- no. If Hubble were basically a spysat, then no one would be allowed to watch the repair EVAs on live TV.

  65. Steve Huntwork

    Never mind, that mirror error was just a stupid contractor blunder…

    If you were to design a telescope that could focus on objects only 250 miles away, instead of astronomical distances, how would you alter the shape of the telescope’s mirror?

    Twenty years later, I am still amazed that the full story has not been released to the public yet.

  66. Gary Ansorge

    John and Utakata:Yes, I’ve seen When Worlds,,,several times, and the launch rail was a cool idea, especially considering it was filmed a half century ago.I note the Japanese have already run a train on their test track up to 581 km/hour. They have done a lot of the sweat work required to build a Mag Lev that could lead to a very practical launch track for a space craft. The first five or six hundred miles/hour are the hardest,,,

    Launch Point Technologies has a great deal of experience in the area of magnetic suspension. They have an R&D contract with the military to develop a circular mag launch track to propel 10 kg payloads into orbit. Good practice for a much larger device.

    As far as going to the moon is concerned: we need the rock/metal/stuff it’s made of to build solar power sats(which is the first economically valid reason we have for going to the moon). The infrastructure required to build mining facilities on Luna, a Mag Lev launcher to send the raw materials to L5(where it would be assembled into Power Sats) would inevitably lead to more human development on Luna, in orbit, settling asteroids, mining comets, etc, etc, etc.

    It took 10,000years to build the first civilizations that COULD get off this planet. I expect it will take another 10,000 years to get a really high level, type II Dyson civilization going in space but it has to begin when we have the spare resources to be able to afford investing in “pie in the sky”. The time to begin is NOW. Besides, we really need the power sats.They’re part of a global effort to produce sustainable power in as many different ways as we can.

    As Robert Heinlien pointed out, only a fool keeps ALL his eggs in one basket when he has an alternative and my Moma didn’t raise no fool.

    Gary 7

  67. Steve Huntwork: the full story was released. several of us have written about it.

  68. Quiet Desperation

    You expect politics to make something easier?

    Yeah, good luck with that.

  69. Martin Luther King’s * political * work managed to make life a hell of a lot easier & better for people like .. well your new President for one! 😉

    Ditto, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela & the firstAmercian revolutinaries against the mad King George ..

    Politics is part of life – an inescapable part. You can fume about thator you can try and fight – politically – to get it more to your liking.

    Your choice.

    What alternative is there to politics?

    War? Even tofight wars is “poolitics by other means”

    Rugged selfish individual independence?

    Get real! No man is an island toquote John Donne. One person can only do so much – even Robinson Crusoe had help from the indigenous islanders and the
    resources from the shipwreck.

    United, politically allied under some form of political structure is the only way Humanity – a social monkey evolved to live in natural tribes or clans can succeed or be anything worth anything at all.

    I think NASA is suffering from a lot of ingratitude – and is very much

    Where would we be without for instance the Hubble Space Telescope?

    Private spaceflight is 50 years behind NASA & has yet to acheive a tenth of what NASA has.

    I don’t think it has to be either or too.

    We can have -should have – BOTH NASA space missions and private corps inspace.

    Both robots and humans working in partnership to explore the solar system (&
    beyond) in different ways and complementing each other with different strengths and weaknesses.

    Oh & most of all we can work on advancing both space travel and scientific exploration and also improving social welfare and the quality of most
    people’s lives on Earth as well.

    What we can do without is needless wars in SouthWestAsia, attacking other
    nations for no good reason & wasting money on funding Israel’s atrocities against the Palestineans and on religious fiundamentalism of all stripes – Christian, Muslim and Jewish as well as all others.

    That money -oh & some wasted on overpaid sports stars (esp. for non-life-threatening sports eg. golf, tennis , baseball) and actors (eg/. Paris Hilton, Tom Cruise, Kevin Costner) – would be far better spent on space exploration and added to NASA’s budget – for both human and robotic missions. :-)

  70. To Be NASA-less = misery

    Dan Brown, the (“DaVinci code” author & somewhat controversial slightly Conspiracy Theoryist novelist did make some good points in his otherwise average if clever novel ‘Deception Point’ :

    “If we privatise NASA our current pursuit of scientific knowledge would be quickly abandoned in favour of profitable ventures. True space science would die in a heartbeat. Why would private companies bother studying the origins of our universe when itwould cost thembillions and show no financial return? They wouldn’t.

    The throngs of entrepreneurs rushing into space will NOT be rocket scientists. They will be entrepreneurs with deep pockets and shallow minds. No NASA means complete anarchy in space.”

    – Page 204-205, ‘Deception Point’, (Sf/ thriller / puzzle novel) Dan Brown, Corgi Books, 2001.

    I agree with that quote. If NASA goes, space science and space research (which incidentally helps greatly in our understanding of Earth and its ecological and environmental issues) will be dealt a massive blow. If private space companies gain too much power and rule low-earth orbit unfettered then the potential and probability is strong for misuse and abuse, exploitation for cynical harmful-to-others profit, promoting military saber-rattling and religious extremism.

  71. StevoR

    People here have talked about big companies funding space exploration instead of NASA – often insulting NASA and public-run space agencies in the most ungrateful and unfair way.

    Well lets compare their results & look at what a remarkable and unparalleled record of success NASA (incl. JPL) can boast having :

    1. Put 12 men (& sadly so far only men) on the lunar surface.
    It & other public space agencies have put hundreds of other people, men and women, (no children yet though! ) incl. the occasional space tourist into orbit – & been doing so since the 1960’s.

    OTOH, Private enterprise (a.k.a. the obscenely rich) have so far recently managed a few sub-orbital flights – putting them about fifty years or more behind NASA!

    2. NASA-Jpl have launched spaceprobes to every planet.
    It has landed rovers on the russet sands of Mars – three times! It has sent four spaceprobes – the two ‘Pioneers’ and ‘Voyagers’ beyond our solar system towards the stars. It has touched the icy slush of Titan and sent probes into oblivion inside the ever denser clouds of Jupiter. It has had several probes on or orbiting Mars like the ‘Phoenix’ on its polar regions, two rovers still gamely plugging on and a couple of handy orbiters around that world and Saturn and missions passing Mercury in a quicksilver set of manoeuvres and on their way to Pluto, Ceres and Vesta, a comet or two and more.

    OTOH private enterprise has sent not one, that is zero, zip, niente, nada, nil, spaceprobes anywhere and, as far as I know, isn’t even planning to do so!

    3. Built some of the most remarkable pieces of engineering in human history – the Saturn V Apollo craft and the re-useable space plane that is the Space Shuttle being exemplars but also all the probes and landers and rovers among other technological marvels. Plus the ISS and ‘Skylab’ Space Stations too although another public space agency – Russia’s – has arguably equalled or beaten them on this score with their ‘Mir’ and Salyut stations.

    OTOH private enterprise has at its very best built ‘Spaceship Two’ which can barely scrape into sub-orbital space – cool but not quite in the same league and with nowhere near the capabilities of any recent NASA craft.

    4. Launched and run the Hubble Space Telescope, the Fermi Gamma –ray Observatory, the IRAS infra-red, Uhuru X-ray and many other space observatories which have done more than almost anything else to improve our understanding and appreciation of the cosmos.
    No astronomer can deny we don’t owe NASA big-time for the HST alone!

    OTOH well … Private space agencies build a scientific observatory where data is y’know shared by scientists globally? .. Hahahhahaa! Gawd No!!Never.

    5. NASA have worked in partnership with other nations and institutions and has helped to construct an atmosphere of international peace through such things as the ISS and the ‘Apollo-Soyuz’ match up.
    It has used the space race to abrade down the Soviet empire and its prestige value and political and ambassadorial impact is one of the best assets the USA has.

    OTOH Private enterprise? Well, this is quite simply always going to be an arena where only public, government space agencies and not corporate players can act.

    So where the records speaks public space enterprise is astronomical units or maybe even light years or parsecs ahead of the private entrepreneurs.

    Beyond the records there’s more than that, private corporate space agencies have an unfixable flaw.

    Their problem is the way we humans – & particularly big profit-seeking companies think regarding the short-term versus the long term. Big companies put raking in stacks of profit first above absolutely everything else – above human rights, above the environment, above the future esp. the longer term future. That’s why they can’t be trusted to develop space exploration or work for the longer term benefit – even if that ‘longer term’ is just decades off rather than fifty or a hundred years.

    That axiom is why “corporate ethics” is an oxymoron, why business needs to be regulated and cannot be trusted to run public services or act for the good of society.

    Space travel, & space-based scientific research is beyond the bounds of narrow commercial instances and requires government involvement by necessity. It takes time, it involves intangible and serendipitous benefits as well as the more obvious $-making ones and it takes an awfully big amount of moolah. Plus it provides long and medium term benefits to everyone – not just the few consumers or stock-holders of any one large corporation.

    That means, by necessity, governments need to be involved and indeed, whole societies do. That’s why NASA is a public, government organisation not an R & D branch of say, MacDonnell-Douglas or Boeing. Private industry, the multinational corporations are by their nature intrinsically unsuited to running broad-based, public-national-&-International good, long-term space programs.

    Tragically, the United States has been ideologically blinded to this truism for a long while now; wrongly mesmerised by rhetoric about untrammelled capitalism that in the long run hurts & is hurting everyone making our planetary & most personal futures far worse than they need be.

    Is there a place for private enterprise in space? Of course there is, probably more so later on when costs go down and technology improves for greater accessibility.

    But do we also – or even more – need NASA and organisations like it; nationally or even internationally run government based space programs looking out for everyone’s interests and everyone’s future rather than immediate piles of money? Absolutely yes!

    Working combined as a society – with good government leaders helping people combine their efforts together we can land on the Moon or reach for Mars and beyond.

    To achieve this what NASA really needs IMHO is :

    I) Proper funding – say maybe about half the amount currently being wasted in occupying Iraq and funding Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

    II) Proper visionary leadership that can explain & inspire the public to back their progress.

    III) Proper focus – a directed program with a specific deadline eg. Moon by 1970.

    I suggest the USA redirects its money & efforts towards funding and supporting NASA and relive or better still out do its previous finest hour & greatest ever achievement – NASA’s Apollo moon-landings!

    I hope to see more towards that & less ungrateful NASA-bashing from folks here!

  72. Charles Boyer

    @Phil: “Charles Boyer, that’s not a good argument. Hubble shouldn’t have been designed to be upgraded. It should have been designed to be simpler and easier, and then we could have made ten of them. Launch ‘em one at a time, and you never need to upgrade.”

    You mean, like Apollos 18, 19 and 20, Phil?

    What makes you so sure that hypotehtical HSTs 6 – 10 would not have been axed…as was Apollo. As was Skylab?

    Besides, we’ve done the cheaper, faster probe thing already. How’s Mars Climate Observatory doing these days? Mars Polar Lander? Deep Space 2?

  73. Charles Boyer

    Oh, and almost forgot to mention that HST itself would have been half-crippled were it not for the first HST repair mission in the first place.

  74. T.E.L.

    Hey Charles: Hubble is the ONLY instrument in space which has been repeat-serviced by human hands. It’s not even the only telescope in space. All the others have had to make do on their own. You can harp all you want about how the job can only be done best by having warm bodies in situ, but NO ONE is going to spend years being irradiated in the Jovian radiation belts. That’ll make your precious bodies just a little too warm.

    NO ONE will spend years on-end parked at a Lagrangian point staring at the Sun. NO ONE will spend years just getting to Mercury. NO ONE in their right fiscal mind will spend as much on one shuttle flight to repair one satellite than it does to just replace it whole with a disposable booster.

    Question: How many solar images were utterly ruined because Skylab had three guys bouncing off the walls?
    Answer: Needlessly many.

    Question: How many miles of lunar landscape have been viewed in situ by American astronauts?
    Answer: Way fewer than were seen by Russians from right here on Earth as they drove the Lunokhods across the surface.

    Question: How many miles of Martian landscape have been viewed by astronauts of any nationality?
    Answer: Probably as many as anyone else with an internet connection. I personally have seen more of Mars than did all the royalty of Medieval Europe, and no one’s even set foot on it.

  75. Steve Huntwork


    “the full story was released. several of us have written about it.”

    Some of us were on the “inside” and knew what had happened.

    Question: Why was the original Hubble software written in ADA?

  76. T.E.L.

    Steve: Are you insinuating that Hubble had some ulterior agenda? Why would that be? When was the secret agenda supposed to be carried out? By this I mean that the telescope’s time has been occupied by less then secret users since it was put on orbit. If there was need of a secret space telescope, why not just put one up secretly? The existence of spysats isn’t controversial. It’s just a fact. Hubble would just be redundant, and not very freely available for such a mission.

  77. stas peterson

    I am constantly amazed as all these idiots who think anti-Science clods like “YEA God!” college major, AlGore, have any conception of real Science, and is in for a rude awakening. Likewise Obama is nothing but a legal whore, who has no scientific background at all. But like the Gore, he can preach a great sermon.

    Anyone who maintains belief in the noveau religious incantations about AGW, or the faked science of Dr. Who Suk of Korea, and his politically correct, faked “stem cell research” and supports it, like these idiots do, reveals their basic anti-rational thinking.

    It shows that they have absolutely no scientific background or any inclination to rational thought. And the willingness to accept evidence that reveals previous data and theories must be scrapped in the light of new evidence, is totally foregn to them. Else why would they support the xconstantly proven erroneous theories of 1860s era, failed economist Karl Marx?

    Gore would I’m sure, rather believe in the Fred Hoyle’s Good Old Time Steady State Universe. That’s assuming he even knows the difference or distinction that Gamow and Hoyle debated, or who they even were. He makes a Saint, of Dr. Ravelle, the only guy to ever give him a passing grade (a D!), in a Science course; and then totally discredits Dr. Ravelle’s every thought and teaching.

    These two genuine clods reveal they would rather worship at the altar of wrong theory as long as they have their Good Old Time Science (pseudo-Religion).

  78. Mark

    Please define “strong, vigorous, and healthy.” — it depends what you think NASA is FOR. We can afford to postponeMan-Moon-Mars: Americans went to the Moon 12 times from the nineteen-SIXTIES: we have nothing to prove as far as manned spaceflight is concerned. But we cannot afford to see our Earth Observation programs struggle. “The future of humanity is in space.” — maybe, in maybe 200 years. Uh, what planet are you living on? Oh yeah, Earth.


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