NASA Chief Taps Ares I Rocket Procurement as 2007 Priority
The Orion crew vehicle launches on board the Ares I launch vehicle in this artist rendering.
Credit: Lockheed Martin Corp.

-- NASA administrator Mike Griffin told an aerospace industry audience here Thursday that awarding contracts for development of the Ares I rocket is the U.S. space agency's top procurement priority for 2007.

NASA's major planned procurement activities for 2007 include awarding seperate separate contracts for the production of the Ares I upper stage and avionics unit, building a satellite to replace the Landsat 7 Earth-imaging satellite and ordering new Tracking and Data Relay Satellites to replenish the constellation already on orbit.

But with Congress planning to fund most federal agencies at their 2006 levels again this year rather than passing new spending bills, NASA's challenge will be to keep those procurements on track with a budget roughly $500 million less than it was expecting.

Asked which procurements NASA intends to pursue this year, Griffin said he hoped to do them all but that the highest priority would be to put the Ares I work under contract.

"Until the Congress tells me otherwise I intend to do them all. My highest priority of course is the Ares upper stage and the whole Ares vehicle," Griffin said following a speech at a breakfast here sponsored by the Space Transportation Association.

Griffin said setting the agency's priorities for the year would be done in consultation with the White House and Congress, noting that the legislature has the final say on spending matters.

"I certainly don't get a veto, but I get a vote," he said. "To the extent to which I get a vote, replacing our ability to put our own people into space by our own means and to do so reliably and above all else safely is our number two priority at NASA," Griffin said, referring to the agency's efforts to field the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle [image] and its Ares I rocket [image] no later than 2014 - four years after the space shuttle is due to be retired. "Our number one priority is to finish assembly of the international space station and continue to fly the shuttle safely."

"Everything else comes after that and I hope to do as much of all of the rest of our priorities as Congress allows with the budget that they pass," he said.