NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin answers a girl’s question at the Experimental Aviation Association’s annual convention July 29. Dick McNally photo
NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin says the United States will establish a base on the Moon in 15 years, and astronauts will land on Mars in 25 years. Speaking of the potential Mars landing, the 58-year-old aerospace engineer said, “I hope to live to see it … it’s within our budget capacity.”
The administrator spoke to a crowd at the Experimental Aviation Association’s AirVenture convention in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, July 29. He compared the challenges of establishing a Moon base to that of getting a foothold on Antarctica 50 years ago. “That’s how I see us on the Moon in the 2020s,” he said.
Addressing the dangers of solar radiation during the Moon and Mars missions, Griffin said we can initially shield the spacecraft using water that astronauts will need anyway. “Water is a really good shield,” he said.
But in the long run, Griffin added, scientists will try to find better answers through research. “How can cockroaches withstand radiation when we cannot?” he asked rhetorically.
The administrator hinted that there may be therapeutic remedies for the radiation such as pharmaceuticals. As an example of solutions to this kind of problem, he cited the experience with scurvy during long sea voyages in earlier centuries. “Millions of people died from it,” he said. Over time, sailors learned to avoid the illness by eating sauerkraut, limes, and other foods while on voyages. Scientists later discovered that those foods provided vitamins missing from the sailors’ diets during the long trips.
Solving the solar radiation problem is critical because 60 percent of NASA’s budget is allocated toward human space exploration, while 30 percent goes toward scientific/robotic work. Griffin expressed strong support for human exploration. He said robotic missions are about science, but “human exploration is about expanding the range of human action.” Citing a statement by scientist Stephen Hawking, Griffin added that, like Hawking, he believes space exploration contributes to the long-term survival of humans. He mentioned potential defenses against asteroid dangers as an example.
The administrator said he thinks Mars exploration will be a continuing program, as opposed to the Apollo program that stopped after seven lunar landings. “We spent $25 billion for a system capable of taking us to the Moon,” he said, adding that $21 billion was spent building the system and only $4 billion using the system. “Then we threw it away,” he said.
Griffin said he’s disappointed that the United States will not be able to continue flying the space shuttle until NASA’s new Ares rockets become available around 2015. (The last shuttle flight will launch in 2010.) “We have only about 10 shuttle launches left,” he said.
In the interim, between the end of the shuttle program and the arrival of a new system, the United States will rely on Russian Soyuz rockets to service and continue building the International Space Station (ISS). “NASA doesn’t have a big enough budget to fly the shuttle while we’re developing a new system to take us to the Moon,” he said, while expressing regret that we would have to rely solely on another country for transportation to the ISS. “It seems silly to put a $100 billion system (the ISS) at risk because we don’t want to spend, say, $3 billion to keep the shuttle going and have a backup for the Russian system to get to the ISS.”
Griffin also addressed questions about reported vibration and payload problems with NASA’s future Ares I Moon rocket. “Most of that is media-induced, to be very honest with you,” he quipped. “I hope this is the worst problem we have in developing the system.” He added that NASA already has half-a-dozen methods to mitigate those problems.
How sad......we visited another world about 40 years ago, then just stopped - basically caving to political pressure & apathy on the part of some - and now we are supposed to - I guess - be thrilled that we are told we will - again - land on the moon (yes, yes, the "base"....) in "15" (I wouldn't bet on that number) years.......sadly, it only took about half that number to get there in the first place. Of course, at that time, we had leadership, drive, spirit, backbone, and - most of all - vision. Our manned "space program" of the last too many years is basically flying higher than jets, spinning around the globe, and never leaving Earth orbit......thrilling......nice pictures, though......
And Mars? In 25 years? Right. A "25 year plan" in a beauracracy is a wish, not a goal. Not to sound too maudlin, but realistically, whenever that date of landing on the Red Planet does arrive, it's a safe assumption that the surface of the planet will be composed of what most of the team of engineers who helped land Man on the moon will have turned into: dust.....
It has gotten so back that now for a number of years we will be "hitching rides" with the Russians to get into "space" (well, not the "space exploration" of new worlds, just the "roundy - round" loop-the-loop that subs for it. And nothing against the Russians: I wish them, the Chinese, heck, even Alaskan Eskimoes if there were a chance - all the best luck & wishes in creating a REAL manned space program.
The U.S. can't, because those odd heaps of long, bumpy things laying around are the collective backbones of not of engineers, but of NASA "leaders", "Visionaries", & "Managers" for the last 30 years, modeled after the leadership in Congress. If one doesn't stand up for what is presumed to be important in an almost trascendal importance, then who else will?
Is this negative? You bet! Did NASA cave and throw manned exploration of other worlds out the window because it didn't forcefully make its case? You bet! Are we settling for less....yes. To be sure, Hubble - well, after the lens fiasco- is an awesome instrument. and the ISS might even be completed some day, who knows? But these should have been 'side projects' while we where setting up base on the moon, and landing on Mars, and planning for more......that's called drive...that's called vision.
If Michael Griffin really wants to put some teeth & excitement into these announcments, then he need to proceed by saying that we WILL be landing on the moon again within 7 years, and we WILL be landing on Mars in 15 years, and that we now that the talent to do such is amound us, as is the drive, and the vision. Take it to the people.......everything costs money....it's the peoples money - congress just spends it.....seems they could use some advice.
The technology - if not the specific vehicles & crews - already exists. The talent to fly the missions, to design the missions, and to create enthusiasm about the missions is already amoung us.
Frankly, we just have to choose to go. Not in some multi-decade timetable built on wishes, but in a matter of years, built on man's need to always be an explorer.
I did comment, though as it wasn't NASA worship, I assume that is why it was not published. As former Air Force myself, I certainly have no ax to grind with Mr. McNally...he was reporting what was being said.
We are amateur astronomers because we want to see for ourselves. We're not content watching the Universe in books or on screen; we want to go out and see for ourselves. We brave the cold and the unsafety of darkness or we take long trips to witness special events like the recent solar eclipse. Some use robotic, remote-controlled telescopes for their observations, but that will never replace getting out and observing directly.
Despite its high cost and risk, space tourism is starting to flourish because our explorer's instinct drives us there. Let's not repress our instinct: we'll go to outer space in person. We'll not only see other worlds, but also hear and touch them. Our instinct never told us to explore the Earth only; only fear is asking that limitation.