Update: Story first posted 1:15 p.m.
WASHINGTON - TheChairman of the Senate Commerce Committee said today that he would push forswift confirmation of NASA Administrator nominee Mike Griffin with the intentof clearing him to report for duty Monday April 18.
Griffin said duringhis confirmation hearing before the Commerce Committee this morning that histwo top priorities would be safe return to flight of the space shuttle fleetand eliminating the lengthy gap between retiring the shuttle fleet in 2010 andfielding a replacement vehicle, the Crew Exploration Vehicle now scheduled forits initial piloted launch in 2014.
Griffin also said hewould reconsider the decision by his predecessor, former NASA AdministratorSean O'Keefe, to cancel a planned shuttle mission to service the Hubble SpaceTelescope. "We should reassess the earlier decision in light of what we learnafter we return to flight," Griffinsaid.
Griffinsaid that once the shuttle has flown successfully again for the first timesince the February 2003 accident that destroyed the shuttle Columbia and killedits crew, he would review two options: sending a shuttle to refurbish thepopular space telescope or mounting a simple robotic mission to de-orbit Hubbleand plunge it into the ocean.
Theoption of sending a robotic spacecraft to refurbish Hubble with newinstruments, batteries and gyroscopes is off the table, Griffin said.
"Ibelieve the choice comes down between reinstating a shuttle servicing missionor possibly a very simple robotic deorbit mission." Griffin said. "Thedecision not to execute the planned shuttle service mission was made in theimmediate aftermath of the loss of Columbia.When we return to flight it will be with essentially a new vehicle which willhave a new risk analysis associated with . . . at that time I think we should reassess the earlier decision inlight of what we learn after we return to flight."
Withregard to the Crew Exploration Vehicle, Griffin noted that in the 1960s theGemini program took only three years and the development of the Apollo capsuleonly about 6 years from contract award to flight He said NASA's current plan tofly astronauts aboard the Crew Exploration Vehicle for the first time in 2014"unacceptable".
"Theprogram that NASA has outlined so far features a new Crew Exploration Vehicle.- call it what you will --- that nominally comes online in 2014. I think that is too far out," Griffin told members of the CommerceCommittee. "President Bush said not later than 2014. He didn't say we couldn'tbe smart and do it early. And that would be my goal."
Teamsled by Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman are going after a pair of contractsworth around $1 billion each to spend the next three years preparing for a CrewExploration Vehicle prototype flight demonstration meant to help NASA pick oneteam to build the actual vehicle.. Proposals are due May 2, but Griffin's statement atthe hearing calls into question whether NASA will go forward with thecompetition as currently structured.
Sen.Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), the chairman of the Commerce Committee, said he wouldtry to get Griffin'snomination out of committee and send to the floor of the Senate for a vote asearly today. Presidential appointments require senate approval.