Tuesday, November 1, 2005

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin yesterday said the United States will take the lead in constructing a “21st-century space highway,” but that the brunt of the financial burden will not be carried by American taxpayers.

Instead, U.S. officials will work with the space agencies of other nations and the private business sector to develop the new frontier of human activity.

“The United States working alone cannot fulfill the sweeping goals of the ‘Vision for Space Exploration,’” Mr. Griffin said of President Bush’s plan that eventually leads to Mars.

“We must maintain the strong international partnerships that have been built during the space station era, and we must extend those partnerships even more broadly to enable a robust human space exploration,” Mr. Griffin said at a Center for Strategic and International Studies workshop on space exploration and international cooperation.

Today marks the five-year anniversary of continuous human presence aboard the orbiting laboratory built and maintained at an expected cost of $100 billion by NASA, the Russian Federal Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency, the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The space station has hosted more than 100 visitors from 10 countries and is a vital link in the Earth-to-Mars mission.

However, the cost to develop new lunar habitats, power stations, laboratories, rovers and long-duration life support systems would exhaust the agency’s financial resources, Mr. Griffin said.

“The biggest barrier to entry for lunar and Mars exploration will be the size and cost of the transportation systems required to take people beyond Earth orbit,” Mr. Griffin said.

NASA will begin to rely more heavily on Russia, Europe and Japan to resupply the space station as the space shuttle program is phased out by 2010. Canada and Europe will participate on other missions and NASA will have research instruments aboard a space mission from India.

“If we are to make the expansion and development of the space frontier an integral part of what it is that human societies do, then these activities must assume an economic dimension as well,” Mr. Griffin said.

Funding for NASA is under a microscope by Congress and the Government Accountability Office, which reported last week the agency does not adequately track contractor spending and results. Auditors in 2003 could not reconcile NASA’s balance in the U.S. Treasury by $1.7 billion. NASA officials have since reduced the difference to $46 million.

Mr. Griffin is reportedly planning a number of budget cuts including some shuttle flights, and will appear before the House Science Committee tomorrow to update Congress on NASA’s finances.

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