Rand Simberg takes a look at Mike Griffin, the new administrator of NASA. Griffin appears to want to break NASA out of the business of shuttling astronauts back and forth to low Earth orbit and on to more ambitious ventures. NASA has been stuck in a rut for decades now, and bureaucratic inertia has stymied or hampered efforts at change.
NASA’s been stuck in a Catch-22 for a while: highly visible missions produce awareness and funding, but it requires awareness and funding to pull off highly visible missions. The plans for a Crewed Expedition Vehicle (CEV) and a return to the Moon are all ambitious goals, and NASA needs an administrator willing to support them.
At the same time, the future of manned spaceflight isn’t with NASA – it’s with clearing the remaining regulatory hurdles towards private spaceflight. SpaceShipOne proved that a private agency can make a suborbital space shot – Scaled Composites is much closer to Reagan’s “Orient Express” suborbital spaceplane than NASA ever got in two decades. Opening up space to commercial development will be critical to building a space infrastructure and making space accessible to the public.
Mr. Griffin has a long and difficult task ahead of him, but with luck he’ll be able to steer NASA towards a much brighter future that will help rekindle interest in space and breed the next generation of manned and unmanned space vehicles.