I’m writing in defense of the op-ed “Mike Griffin’s Constellation Zombie” by Rick Tumlinson [Commentary, Oct. 25, page 19] and in response to the letter “Personal Attack on Griffin Crosses Line” [Commentary, Nov 23, page 18]. The letter writer is an example of the type of individual NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program faces these days: perhaps full of good motives, but not truly understanding of the subpar way the new U.S. National Space Policy has been presented.
I’d like to clear the air for those who also don’t recognize a proper critique when they see one, at least one that’s full of hyperbolic expression that brings a humorous view to a dreary situation. From what the letter writer says, I understand he is not a liberal arts major, but neither am I; the beauty of what Mr. Tumlinson is saying about Mr. Griffin’s time as NASA administrator, however, does not elude me as a “personal attack.”
Take the letter writer’s literal interpretation of the “Das National Rocket” joke. Surely there was no implication that the United States is a fascist state, yet this wisecrack falls far short as a joke, along with the intended idea that such nationalistic tendencies are the reason many do not believe the commercial industry is capable of flying humans into space — people who were fed the belief that only something as large and powerful (not to mention built by government muscle!) as NASA is blessed with the ability to do this quickly and safely. And although it is quite obvious that Constellation would indeed be capable of accomplishing its intended mission, what a step back it would be! Sure, the Soyuz family of crafts, designed in the 1950s and first used in the ’60s, still flies impeccably to this day, but take it from someone who is familiar with this on a personal level: the Russian people know how to “milk it.” They don’t fly it because it works; they fly it because they don’t have and financially can’t make anything else. It’s the reason the shuttle Buran flew only once and the reason they don’t have solo projects anymore. Having the United States’ next major heavy space transport be a rocket, a concept perfected by Goddard and invented by the Chinese before the Earth was known as round, is no progress. We have many new technologies to make a new and better Saturn 5, but they didn’t put wheels on a horse and call it a car. Better to start from scratch to make a newer and better product, as was done with the space shuttle. I think all can agree that was a good decision, even if it only became possible with the financial assistance of the U.S. Air Force.
Finally, Mr. Tumlinson’s article lacks the key segment of a flagrant tirade against Mr. Griffin: calling his moral values into question. It is, in fact, stated quite clearly that Mr. Griffin is a good man with the best of intentions at heart but merely lacking in the competence required of a human space exploration visionary. It is the work of Mr. Griffin and his policies that are being criticized, assuming, of course, one ignores any implied or sarcastic arguments the letter writer “found” in the article. And while Mr. Griffin has every right to lobby Congress for his programs, individuals in his position should display a level of responsibility that supersedes the man and is worthy of the NASA Administrator’s Office. And, after all, he can, and does, defend his stances in this very publication.
However true that Mr. Tumlinson did not provide a “cure-all” concept for human space exploration in his article, how about this for an idea: Ferry the parts for and assemble a lunar lander next to the space station using existing cargo carriers (COTS anyone?). Better yet, move the space station to lunar orbit, build another one in low Earth orbit (LEO), and create a three-part journey to the Moon with craft specialized for lunar landing, inter-space station travel, and Earth-to-LEO ferrying. Such an idea is in line with the von Braun paradigm, fairly cheap in the long run, and readies us for Mars and any other destinations beyond geocentric orbit. What we do now with large rockets and cumulative “missions from Earth to X” is similar to parking your boat at the dealership instead of a dock after a trip out to sea.
Bristow , Va.