NASA Administrator Mike Griffin suggested in an interview with CBS News’ Bill Harwood following the Feb. 7 launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis that the builder of the Atlas 5 rocket is behind efforts to undermine confidence in the agency’s planned Ares 1 crew launch vehicle.

“Let me get down to the bottom of it. There were winners and losers in the contractor community as to who was going to get to do what on the next system post shuttle,” Griffin told

Harwood, according to a transcript of the interview. “And we didn’t pick

Atlas 5 – in consultation with the Air Force, for that matter – because it wasn’t the right vehicle for the lunar job. Obviously, we did pick others. So people who didn’t get picked see an opportunity to throw the issue into controversy and maybe have it come out their way.”

The Atlas 5 was designed and originally built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver, which tried without success in 2005 to convince NASA to use that vehicle as the basis of the rocket that would launch for the agency’s planned Crew Exploration Vehicle. The Atlas 5

now is manufactured by United Launch Alliance (ULA), a Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture that builds and sells rockets to U.S. government clients.

In 2006, Lockheed Martin won a $4 billion contract to design and build the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle, a ballistic capsule intended for launch atop the Ares 1, which is based on the space shuttle’s giant solid-rocket motors. Orion and Ares 1 are the cornerstones of

NASA’s Constellation human space exploration program.

Spokeswomen for ULA

and Lockheed Martin Space Systems disavowed any behind-the-scenes efforts to undermine confidence in the Ares 1.

“United Launch Alliance would like to be on the record that we fully support NASA’s Program Constellation, including the Ares launch vehicle element that is critical to its success,” ULA spokeswoman Julie Andrews wrote in a Feb. 11 e-mail. “ULA has every confidence in the objectivity and credibility of the process used by NASA to optimize the Constellation architecture, weighing program objectives of performance, reliability and cost. As a subcontractor on Constellation involved in numerous elements of the program, we are proud of our role in this venture and determined to wholeheartedly support NASA in achieving its objectives.”

Joan Underwood, a spokeswoman for Lockheed Martin Space Systems, said the company’s Orion engineers are confident in NASA’s choice of launchers.

“Others may be pushing alternatives, but not

the team working here at Lockheed Martin,” Underwood said via

e-mail. “In fact, [Lockheed Martin Orion Program Manager CleonLacefield] commented to some folks last week that he is impressed with the work that is being done to integrate Orion with Ares and that much of what is being done right now in the development of Ares is very well-known engineering processes that are used in developing any new or derived launch system. From his perspective, he said he feels very good about preparing Orion for launch on Ares.”

While ULA

says it is on board with NASA’s decision to use Ares 1 to launch Orion, the

company continues to evaluate what it would take to human rate the Atlas 5, which was designed to launch military and commercial satellites. Bigelow Aerospace announced Feb. 5 that it was making progress on a deal to buy potentially dozens of human-rated Atlas 5 rockets to assemble and service the commercial space station the startup venture

hopes to launch in 2011.

Las Vegas-based Bigelow Aerospace

is negotiating the deal through Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems

of Denver.

Meanwhile, Griffin downplayed a potentially dangerous vibration issue Ares engineers have been wrestling with as they design the rocket.

“I think you have been around long enough to know technically this is just not a big deal. It’s about winners and losers,” Griffin said. “In the larger context, it’s about winners and losers and people seeing an opportunity to reclaim a share of the pie that was lost. And I hate it when it comes to that. But that’s it.”

Griffin also defended

NASA’s decision to build Ares 1 rather than try to adapt the Atlas 5 to the agency’s exploration


“The Atlas 5 needs substantial upgrades in order to be a useful part of the lunar architecture and those upgrades, when we added them all up, cost more than the Ares 1. It’s that simple,” Griffin said. “Now if you just want to go to low

Earth orbit and nowhere else, then the Atlas 5 will do just fine. And I encourage its use for that. What I don’t encourage is for people to say that going to low

Earth orbit and stopping there again is a good goal. That’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to get back to the

Moon and we want to go on to Mars. And that needs something bigger.”