Senate unanimously confirms Michael Griffin as new NASA head

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Michael D. Griffin, new NASA Administrator Source: NASA

The U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed on Wednsday the nomination of Dr. Michael Griffin to head the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), making him the 11th administrator of the US-based space agency. He takes office at a time when NASA is busy with preparations for the return to flight of the space shuttle Discovery, expected sometime during the launch window of May 15 through June 3, 2005.

The presidential nominee Griffin was the head of the Applied Physics Laboratory's Space Department at Johns Hopkins University, a position he held almost a year. Prior to that, he was a chief engineer at NASA before coming over from service as Deputy for Technology at the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization. He has made a career of the aerospace field.

Griffin was critical at times of U.S. priorities in space exploration by questioning its continued commitment to the International Space Station. Griffin, in testimony before the House Science Committee in 2004, outlined more ambitious plans for human exploration and settlement of the solar system in which he believes the United States should play a key role.

In a statement during his April 12, 2005, confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, Griffin said, "In the twenty-first century and beyond, for America to continue to be preeminent among nations, it is necessary for us also to be the preeminent spacefaring nation," with a spirit of discovery similar to the exploration of the New World by Columbus with the support of the Spanish crown.

Griffin, 55, notably holds seven academic degrees from various institutions, including a bachelor's degree in physics; master's degrees in aerospace science, electrical engineering, applied physics, civil engineering and business administration; and a PhD in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Maryland.

NASA's upcoming priorities

The list of NASA's upcoming priorities, as outlined by Griffin during his confirmation hearing, offer insight into the direction that America's space program may take under his leadership.

In his prepared statement, Griffin said, "my priorities in executing the duties of [NASA Administrator], consistent with the President’s Vision for Space Exploration, will be:
- Flying the Shuttle as safely as possible until its retirement, not later than 2010.
- Bringing a new Crew Exploration Vehicle into service as soon as possible after Shuttle retirement.
- Developing a balanced overall program of science, exploration, and aeronautics at NASA, consistent with the redirection of the human spaceflight program to focus on exploration.
- Completing the International Space Station in a manner consistent with our International partner commitments and the needs of human exploration.
- Encouraging the pursuit of appropriate partnerships with the emerging commercial space sector.
- Establishing a lunar return program having the maximum possible utility for later missions to Mars and other destinations."

President Bush's Vision for Space Exploration, referred to by Griffin above, is currently United States policy on various aspects of space exploration, announced on January 14, 2004 after the Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster of February 1, 2003. The US is committed to a future of both human and robotic exploration of the solar system, with an emphasis on maintaining safety and advancing scientific and technical knowledge.

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