- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 12, 2005


A Senate committee yesterday hailed President Bush’s choice for the post of NASA administrator while giving rocket scientist Michael Griffin a daunting list of tasks, including saving the Hubble telescope and speeding the delivery of a new manned space vehicle.

Members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee said it was urgent to get Mr. Griffin on the job before next month’s space shuttle launch - the first since Columbia broke up over Texas in February 2003.

But a scheduled vote yesterday was put off when Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, sought information from Mr. Griffin on issues such as administration plans to cut NASA’s budget for aeronautics research. About 1,000 jobs at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia could be lost under Mr. Bush’s proposed budget.

Mr. Allen said he was concerned about the administration’s plan to cut in half NASA’s aeronautics research funding at a time when the U.S. aviation industry’s share of the world market has fallen to less than 50 percent.

Mr. Griffin, who has earned seven degrees and is head of the space department at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, is expected to win confirmation without opposition. The 55-year-old would be NASA’s 11th administrator, succeeding Sean O’Keefe, who left the post in February to become chancellor at Louisiana State University.

Mr. Griffin told the panel that he was a wholehearted supporter of Mr. Bush’s ambition to return humans to the moon in 10 to 15 years and launch manned flights to Mars and beyond.

“The United States needs to look in new directions and look beyond where we have been in the last several decades,” Mr. Griffin said, stressing that the space shuttle function of servicing the International Space Station did not qualify as a good risk for human spaceflight.

Mr. Bush’s long-range plan has not received a warm reception on Capitol Hill, with lawmakers concerned that the costs of returning to the moon and beyond would necessitate sacrifices in other popular programs.

Several senators urged Mr. Griffin to take steps to resuscitate the Hubble Space Telescope, which is wearing down and will fail unless costly and risky action is taken to save it.

Mr. Griffin said the knowledge of the universe gained from the Hubble compares to Einstein’s theory of relativity but, citing the costs of an unmanned fix, added that he would “like to take the robotic mission off the table.” He said he would reassess a manned mission to the telescope after shuttle flights are resumed.

Mr. Griffin also agreed with senators that there was an unacceptable gap between the planned retirement, no later than 2010, of the space shuttle, and the launch about five years later of the next-generation manned vehicle, called the Crew Exploration Vehicle.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Republican and committee member, said such a hiatus was “a security issue for our country.”

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