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Griffin Says U.S. Could Beat China To Moon

By | March 19, 2007

      NASA could accelerate its Constellation program to get Americans back on the moon sooner than now planned, so as to beat the Chinese in their drive toward a manned mission to Earth orbiting body.

      That was the assessment of NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, speaking to reporters after a hearing of the House Science Committee on the NASA budget request for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2008.

      “Well, sure,” the United States could race forward and get to the moon ahead of Chinese astronauts, Griffin said. But, he noted, the United States already is, and always will be, in first place in getting humans to the moon, having done that in 1969, before any other nation. That’s when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Sea of Tranquility, saying, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

      But now, “if we want to make sure the United States is the next nation” to have an astronaut step onto the moon, that might be possible in 2017 instead of 2019. However, accelerating the current plan of a landing on the moon in 2020 would cost a substantial sum, perhaps “a few billion [dollars] extra over the next 10 years,” he said.

      NASA last year gave Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT] a contract to construct the Orion spacecraft that will take astronauts back to the moon, and this year the space agency will award a separate contract for the Ares rocket that will lift the spacecraft from Earth.

      Orion would first go to low Earth orbit, then to the moon by 2020, and then would provide for formation of a base camp near the south pole of the moon in 2024.

      Griffin was asked whether he would like to see the United States beat China to the moon, but he demurred, saying such decisions aren’t for an agency leader such as himself to make.

      “It’s a judgment of policymakers, not me, as to whether [this is] a matter of U.S. prestige [that the United States] be clearly perceived as leading the way in space,” and worth the cost of accelerating the program, he said.

      Asked for his personal view, he said that on the one hand, “I don’t think we’re in a race with any nation.”

      On the other hand, he added that it is important to him that the United States should continue to be “clearly the leader in space.”

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