Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Incandescent Hypocrisy of Mike Griffin

The former NASA head that brought you the failed, ill-conceived Constellation project does not like NASA's current approach to human space flight.

He complains:

On Aug. 5, the Orlando Sentinel cited internal NASA documents detailing a $38 billion estimate for a “new NASA moon rocket.” This estimate is entirely out of line with previous projections and good management practice. Even if correct, such documents would normally be extremely sensitive and available only to NASA leadership. Their release offers yet another example of the tiresome Washington game of leaking a highly biased story in order to set the terms for an upcoming debate.

Well, it certainly makes sense that cost and schedule of a multi-billion dollar project would be highly sensitive, and thus kept from the eyes of mere taxpayers.

Griffin, incidentally, misleadingly quotes the inaccurate headline, which does not reflect the content of the article. The article describes a $29-38 billion range to pay for not only the rocket, but the capsule to ride it.

To explain why the NASA plan is bad, Griffin himself leaks like a sieve:

NASA’s internal documentation shows the SLS budget assumed by the administration would spend only $1.2 billion per year through 2025, far below the $2.65 billion peak authorized in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act and the $1.8 billion appropriated by Congress in 2011.

But as the program stretches out, it still must absorb its share of the cost of running NASA, an agency with 10 centers and some 24,000 employees (including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory). These fixed costs consume approximately $7 billion per year. This is what it costs to own our national space agency. These internal taxes, when applied to a program that has been slowed to a crawl, maximize cost growth at the expense of hardware development. Under the administration’s scenario, the entire exploration budget would be capped at $3 billion for the next 13 years — including SLS, MPCV and ground operations

We need to compare this with NASA's budget request for 2008, when Griffin was still in charge, and his Constellation program was asking for $3 billion. Or what was actually enacted, when Constellation was funded at $2.7 billion and the full exploration program at $3.3 billion, with about $1 billion of that for Ares I, Griffin's contemporary version of the shuttle derived SLS. This is, of course, a funding level Griffin now claims is clearly inadequate.

This should be compared with NASA's 2012 budget of $3.9 Billion for exploration, plus an additional $1 Billion for space technology, a category not itemized in Griffin's 2008 budget.

Griffin might respond that his own exploration budget for 2012 was much more generous, at $7.1 Billion. He achieved this in part by shrinking the share of NASA's budget devoted to science from 28% in 2007 to 24% in 2012. Also, he made optimistic assumptions. His budget assumed that the Shuttle would be retired by the end of 2010, that 2012 STS shutdown costs would be minimal, and he significantly underestimated the cost of crew and cargo resupply for ISS. Also, he assumed that a NASA owned launcher and manned spacecraft would be able to reach LEO no later than 2015, so there was no reason to for NASA to fund a commercial alternative to take crews to ISS

Griffin was wrong on every single point.

Why should he be given credence on other questions?

1 comment:

Eric Weder said...

Nice post Will. Griffin really doesn't deserve any publicity, let alone credibility. I sure hope he doesn't get any more traction with the next administration than he does with this one.

(I linked through from Transterrestrial Musings)