NASA Administrator Griffin Contradicts Own Congressional Testimony
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
The Space Frontier Foundation today pointed out that NASA Administrator Dr. Michael Griffin, in an interview with CBS News published last Friday, publicly contradicted his own 2003 testimony to Congress about the safety of flying humans on America’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELVs).
“It’s one thing for Mike to argue that EELVs can’t send astronauts all the way to the Moon. But on Friday he claimed that EELVs are not safe enough, even for the easier job of launching astronauts to Earth orbit, and that’s just not true,” said Foundation Chairman Berin Szoka.
“Just five years ago, Mike testified to Congress that EELVs were safe enough to launch astronauts to low Earth orbit. And the only thing that’s changed since then is that the Delta IV and Atlas V systems have, together, successfully flown 20 times,” Szoka added.
In the CBS News interview published on Friday, November 14th, Dr. Griffin defended his plan to invest roughly $10 billion in taxpayer funding to create the new Ares 1 rocket, rather than using the existing, proven EELVs, saying “our selection was based first and foremost on crew safety ...”
But on May 8, 2003, Dr. Griffin testified to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, rejecting suggestions that EELVs were not safe enough for human spaceflight. Dr. Griffin declared that no additional precautions, beyond a safety abort system, were necessary.
GRIFFIN: What, precisely, are the precautions that we would take to safeguard a human crew that we would deliberately omit when launching, say, a billion-dollar Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission? The answer is, of course, “none”. While we appropriately value human life very highly, the investment we make in most unmanned missions is quite sufficient to capture our full attention.
Logically, therefore, launch system reliability is treated by all parties as a priority of the highest order, irrespective of the nature of the payload, manned or unmanned. While there is no EELV flight experience as yet, these modern versions of the Atlas and Delta should be as inherently reliable as their predecessors. Their specified design reliability is 98%, a value typical of that demonstrated by the best expendable vehicles. If this is achieved, and I believe that it will be, and given a separate escape system with an assumed reliability of even 90%, the fatal accident rate would be 1 in 500 launches, substantially better than for the Shuttle.
“We’re already on record saying that the best way to close the impending gap in human spaceflight is to invest in new commercial crew systems, many of which would be launched on an EELV,” said Bob Werb, the organization’s co-Founder. “Now we’re saying NASA should launch its Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle on an EELV as well, instead of spending $10 Billion developing a brand new, EELV-class rocket.”