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FYI Number 138: September 22, 2005

NASA Administrator Griffin and Congress: NASA's Exploration Architecture

Earlier this week, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin described how the agency intends to fulfill President Bush's vision for a manned return to the moon, human exploration of Mars, and beyond. Immediate reaction from Capitol Hill was guardedly supportive.

NASA's new plan will be the subject of many congressional hearings which will be reviewed in future issues of FYI. Below is a brief description of the exploration architecture, followed by from excerpts from Griffin's September 19 briefing and initial statements from Capitol Hill.

EXPLORATION ARCHITECTURE:

Griffin described the new spacecraft as "Apollo on steroids," with more than three times the volume. It will be a blunt-body capsule that would accommodate: four crew members into lunar orbit, six astronauts to Mars, unpiloted cargo shipments, and trips to the International Space Station. This Crew Exploration Vehicle will be flown no later than 2014, with a goal of 2012 or earlier. (NASA documents reiterate that the shuttle is to be retired in 2010.) It will use a liquid oxygen/liquid methane propulsion system that is to be developed. The vehicle will return to dry land. The plan calls for each vehicle to be flown up to ten times.

A heavy cargo launch vehicle will utilize the shuttle's main engines and solid rocket boosters (but not the shuttle vehicle itself.)

Lunar robotic missions to study, map, and perform research will be flown between 2008 and 2011. The plan calls for a manned return to the moon no later than 2020, with a goal of 2018.

ADMINISTRATOR GRIFFIN ON:

FUNDING:

"It fits within the available budget without asking for new money and does so in as timely a manner as we could discern."

". . . it is an annual go-as-you-pay architecture that supports the annual budget planning that we must do in concert with the White House and Congress. This architecture was designed to fit within the administration guidelines on our forward-looking budgets and to be adjustable and adaptable to fit the amount of money that Congress each year finally appropriates for us. The architecture will not need to change. The pace with which the implementation proceeds will change to suit the funding which is made available."

"As to what it's all going to coast, our estimates are about - that it will cost for the first human lunar return, it will cost about 55 percent measured in constant dollars of what Apollo cost spread out over 13 years. Apollo was done in eight years. So, spreading it out over 13 years, it will cost about 55 percent of what Apollo cost, a specific number in today's dollars, about $104 billion for the first human lunar return along the lines of the architecture you saw today. Let me also point out that, for the first five or six years, what we are really developing is the shuttle successor, the crew exploration vehicle. The crew exploration vehicle is designed with its launch system to go to low earth orbit. Once you're in low earth orbit, you can do any number of things. You must go through low earth orbit to go anywhere else. We can go to the moon. In later decades, we can go to Mars. We can service the space station. We can undertake the service of the Hubble space telescope or other space telescopes, as may exist. We can do anything. This new vehicle is the vehicle that lets us do that and unless the United States wants to get out of the manned space flight business completely, then this is the vehicle we need to be building. And I don't hear anyone saying that the United States would be better off being out of space when other nations are there."

"This architecture absolutely fits within the funding guidelines that the administration has provided."

". . . all of our goals will have to be funding driven. All right, the dates will have to be adjusted to match the funding which is made available. We're not talking about new money here. We're talking about revectoring the money which is and has been made available to NASA in support of different human space flight goals."

"At the top line, NASA's budget this year in FY '06 is a little bit over $16 billion. The administration will be requesting--our guidelines are that we will be requesting approximately that same amount in constant dollars, adjusted for inflation in the next four or five years. When I say we are not asking for additional money, we are not asking for additional money beyond that. The President's vision for space exploration has already brought about a restructuring of what it is that NASA does within that top line."

SAFETY:

"The crew ascent system offers, we believe, considerably more safety than the Space Shuttle, using apples to apples, probabilistic risk analysis approaches. The existing figure for the Space Shuttle is one in 220 failure rare, whereas for the crew launch vehicle, the system that you have seen, will have approximately one in 2,000, so a factor of ten improvement on crew safety. That is achieved by means of the escape tower, which you saw on the top, the abort system as well, of course, the inline use of the shuttle solid rocket boosters and the new upper stage."

IMPACT ON SCIENCE AND OTHER PROGRAMS:

"This is about a budget which keeps NASA in constant dollars approximately where it is today. It is about re-directing the use of that money to new goals in the human space flight program. It is not about taking money from the science program or the aeronautics program in order to fund manned space flight. It is, again, about utilizing the money that we have to achieve different, I think, far more exciting goals in human space flight."

". . . this was not about taking money from the science programs for human space flight and it's not. The science program has not - in our forward planning, we do not take one thin dime out of the science program in order to execute this architecture. It is about re-directing what we do in the human space flight program."

"Now, that said, as we develop and carry out these plans, this response to the President's call for a new vision for exploration, it affords, in my view, huge opportunities for science, huge opportunities. I hope and believe that the NASA science community, the global space science community will want to take advantage of the opportunities that these plans offer."

"What we do on the moon is at best 13 years away. It will be left to the planners of that time to say. I have a long list of interesting lunar objectives from the lunar science community such that we can do many missions to the moon and not satisfy them. But it's not the subject for today."

INITIAL REACTION FROM CAPITOL HILL:

HOUSE SCIENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN SHERWOOD BOEHLERT (R-NY):

"I want to congratulate Dr. Griffin and his entire team on the very thorough work they have done in putting together an ‘exploration architecture.' While we are still reviewing the details, it appears that NASA has come up with an effective way to move forward, making the most of past U.S. investments in human space travel to enable us to enter the next phase of exploration in the safest, least expensive and most efficient way.

"The question Congress and the Administration will still have to grapple with most is not the nature or desirability of the exploration architecture, but rather its timing. Given the funding shortfalls in the Space Shuttle program, there is simply no credible way to accelerate the development of a Crew Exploration Vehicle unless the NASA budget increases more than has been anticipated. Whether such an increase is a good idea in the context of overall federal spending at this time is something neither Congress nor the Administration has yet determined."

HOUSE SCIENCE COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER BART GORDON (R-TN):

"Administrator Griffin is to be commended for constructing what appears to be a good, sensible programmatic approach to returning humans to the Moon and preparing for journeys beyond the Moon.

"That said, I am anxious to get more information on the program's expected costs, the impact on the International Space Station program, as well as the impact on NASA's other important missions.

"This plan is coming out at a time when the nation is facing significant budgetary challenges. Getting agreement to move forward on it is going to be heavy lifting in the current environment, and it's clear that strong Presidential leadership will be needed."

HOUSE SPACE & AERONAUTICS SUBCOMMITTEE CHAIRMAN KEN CALVERT (R-CA):

"As the Second Space-Age begins, America must maintain our preeminence in human space exploration and space technology. I welcome the Architecture study released today, which embodies a spirit of optimism that I believe NASA has lost in recent decades. I will consider its conclusions carefully as we move forward with a NASA authorization bill.

"It is important to remember that we are pursuing human space exploration in a dynamic world, not in a vacuum. Many nations have robust space programs, including China, which has recently entered into human space flight. If America is unwilling to lead by investing in the space program, other countries will step up in our place.

"Clearly, we must consider the cost of exploration in conjunction with other priorities, but I do not think the cost is prohibitive. Many people forget that an investment in our space program is an investment in the U.S. economy and U.S. education. It is in America's long-term interest to invest in space exploration, and I will continue to work with my colleagues to ensure all priorities receive appropriate funding."

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
301-209-3095

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