Former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin closed this year’s Von Braun Space Exploration Symposium in Huntsville Friday with some tough love for his old agency and a cold shower for a new generation on why he thinks the agency exists.
“NASA is a national security program,” Griffin said at the symposium’s closing lunch at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Every aspect of the public space program “is about the standing of the United States in the global arena. That is what it is about.
“If we can do some useful things in conjunction with that, I think that’s great,” Griffin said. “I worked on Hubble and am proud of that. But sorry, scientists, Hubble is a national security program. It’s about, ‘We’re better than you.’ And if that sounds jingoistic, I don’t care.”
Griffin, who led the space agency between 2005 and 2009, said President John Kennedy wanted to go to the moon in the early 1960s to demonstrate “the superiority of the American way of doing important things over other approaches.” Then, the threat was the Soviet Union, he said. Today, it is China.
“President Xi (Jinping) routinely makes statements that the Western democracies are bankrupt, have lost their way, are decadent. He asserts his intention that China should be the world’s superpower,” Griffin said. “When people tell you they’re out to get you, maybe you should pay attention. Maybe, he’ll die first and China will revert. I don’t want to place my bet on that hand.”
“The consequences to the world order of China being on the moon when the United States cannot even get there are profound,” he said. “I’m old but I expect to be there when they land. I want us to be there to greet them, not watching them on TV.”
Griffin spent much of his speech looking back at an old essay he wrote for the magazine Aviation Week & Space Technology. There were “some things in there I did get right,” he said, but there were also new lessons about like his…