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.
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:
"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."
"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
". . . 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
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
"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."