UPDATE: Griffin: Congress Must be HLLV Design Bureau of Last Resort

UPDATE: Griffin: Congress Must be HLLV Design Bureau of Last Resort

UPDATE: Links have been added to the prepared remarks of two of the panelists, Griffin and Pace, which are being circulated by STA. If the remarks of the other two panelists become available, links will be added to those as well.

Former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin told a Space Transportation Association audience yesterday that Congress must be specific in legislation about the capabilities of the new heavy lift launch vehicle (HLLV) or NASA may design a rocket too small to support human missions beyond low Earth orbit (LEO). Any lack of specificity in law would be viewed by the Administration as an opening to do something else, he argued: “It’s regrettable when Congress has to be the design bureau of last resort, but sometimes it’s necessary.” Ordinarily, NASA administrators and almost anyone else outside of Congress bristle when Congress sets technical design parameters in law.

Scott Pace, Director of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute, who served as NASA Associate Administrator for Program Analysis and Evaluation when Griffin headed the agency, agreed. He argued that usually Congress “functions best on an incremental basis” and “at the margins,” but in this case it “had no choice but to go back to basics.” He also advocated for a National Research Council “Decadal Survey” to set priorities for human space flight.

Pace is skeptical that the commercial sector can develop commercial crew systems in the near-term, saying that “just because it’s desirable doesn’t mean it’ll be there.” Bob Dickman, Executive Director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (but speaking for himself), disagreed. Reviewing the 14 families of launch vehicles developed in the United States over the past 50 years, Dickman concluded “there is nothing magic about getting to LEO. We know how to do it.” He believes NASA needs to focus on investing in revolutionary in-space propulsion technologies to dramatically shorten the trip time to Mars from months to days. “We have to make the transition from what we’ve done to where we want to be 30 years from now.”

Gary Payton, a consultant who most recently was Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force for Space Programs but whose career includes flying as a payload specialist on the space shuttle in 1985, focused on the need for continuity and stability in the human space flight program. Whether it is nuclear submarines or fighter aircraft, the Department of Defense begins the development of new systems while the existing systems are still operating to ensure there are no gaps in capabilities, he explained. That should have been done with building a replacement for the space shuttle to avoid the upcoming gap between the end of the shuttle and availability of a new system, but NASA could not do it because of underfunding, he said. He asked rhetorically why the nation is willing to spend money on bailing out financial institutions, but not investing in NASA.

Dickman also called for more funding for NASA, and that became the theme of much of the rest of the meeting.

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