Engineer will lead efforts to return Shuttle to flight and complete space station

Nominated by the White House as NASA's new administrator, spaceflight engineer Dr Michael Griffin faces the challenge of heading an agency that will shed 15% of its staff by mid-2006. Griffin, head of the space department at the Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University and a former NASA employee, is a popular choice.

If his appointment is confirmed by Congress, as expected, he will take over an agency that is being reshaped dramatically around the US space exploration vision. Griffin led the agency's exploration office during the previous, abortive space exploration initiative, then became NASA's chief engineer. Before that, he was the deputy for technology at the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization and also worked at Orbital Sciences and the Central Intelligence Agency's venture-capital arm In-Q-Tel.

As NASA administrator, Griffin will lead the agency's efforts to return the Space Shuttle to flight and complete assembly of the International Space Station (ISS), although he is not known as a great supporter of either programme. In 2004, he recommended that the Shuttle be grounded earlier than its planned retirement in 2010, so funds could be diverted to the Crew Exploration Vehicle.

Griffin thinks it is more important to develop an unmanned heavylift booster to carry up to 100t into low-Earth orbit to support the space exploration initiative. He has also expressed doubts about the value of the ISS, while saying it was important to fulfil NASA's obligations to its international partners to complete the assembly. He has said most logistics missions could be performed better using Russian Progress tankers and European and Japanese cargo modules.

Speaking to a House Science Committee hearing last year, Griffin said the combined budget for the Space Shuttle to the end of FY2011 and for the ISS through to 2016 would be $60 billion – much more than the projected cost of a return to the Moon.

Meanwhile, NASA associate administrator James Jennings says he plans to streamline the agency as it shifts emphasis to the exploration initiative. The reduction in workforce – mostly through voluntary redundancies and retirements – could save up to $268 million a year, mainly from the aeronautics and basic research budgets.



Johns Hopkins University

Source: Flight International