Mike the Mad Biologist

I think NASA director Mike Griffin wants to lose his job (not a good idea these days…):

NASA administrator Mike Griffin is not cooperating with President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team, is obstructing its efforts to get information and has told its leader that she is “not qualified” to judge his rocket program, the Orlando Sentinel has learned.

In a heated 40-minute conversation last week with Lori Garver, a former NASA associate administrator who heads the space transition team, a red-faced Griffin demanded to speak directly to Obama, according to witnesses.

In addition, Griffin is scripting NASA employees and civilian contractors on what they can tell the transition team and has warned aerospace executives not to criticize the agency’s moon program, sources said.

Griffin’s resistance is part of a no-holds-barred effort to preserve the Constellation program, the delayed and over-budget moon rocket that is his signature project.

…Nearly four years ago, President Bush brought in Griffin to implement a plan to return astronauts to the moon by 2020 as a prelude to going to Mars. Griffin and his team selected Constellation, with its NASA-designed Ares I rocket and Orion capsule, as cheaper and safer than existing rockets. Constellation – especially Ares 1 — is the center of what Griffin sees as his legacy to return humans to the frontiers of space.

Griffin has made no secret that he would like to stay on but only, as he recently told Kennedy Space Center workers, “under the right circumstances,” including being able to finish Constellation.

But budget problems and technical issues have created growing doubts about the project. Griffin has dismissed these as normal rocket development issues, but they’ve clearly got the transition team’s attention.

When team members arrived three weeks ago, they asked the agency, among other things, to quantify how much could be saved by canceling Ares I. Though they also asked what it would take to accelerate the program, the fact that the team could even consider scrapping the program was enough to spur Griffin and his supporters into action

According to industry officials, Griffin started calling heads of companies working for NASA, demanding that they either tell the Obama team that they support Constellation or refrain from talking about alternatives.

The companies, worried that Griffin may remain and somehow punish them if they ignore his wishes, have by and large complied.

And lots of unnecessary drama:

Tensions were on public display last week at the NASA library, as overheard by guests at a book party.

According to people who were present, Logsdon, a space historian, told a group of about 50 people he had just learned that President John F. Kennedy’s transition team had completely ignored NASA.

Griffin responded, in a loud voice, “I wish the Obama team would come and talk to me.”

Alan Ladwig, a transition team member who was at the party with Garver, shouted out: “Well, we’re here now, Mike.”

Soon after, Garver and Griffin engaged in what witnesses said was an animated conversation. Some overheard parts of it.

“Mike, I don’t understand what the problem is. We are just trying to look under the hood,” Garver said.

“If you are looking under the hood, then you are calling me a liar,” Griffin replied. “Because it means you don’t trust what I say is under the hood.

First rule of governmenting: don’t fly off the handle unless it’s intentional. Space historian (there’s a cool job) Logsdon’s take on things:

Said John Logsdon, a George Washington University professor who co-wrote the book honored at the NASA party, “There is a natural tension built into this situation… Mike is dead-on convinced that the current approach to the program is the right one. And Lori’s job is to question that for Mr. Obama. The Obama team is not going to walk in and take Mike’s word for it.”

I love publicly funded entertainment.



  1. #1 Watt de Fawke
    December 12, 2008

    Hey, Griffin, I’m calling you a liar. And a traitor.

  2. #2 Luboš Motl
    December 12, 2008

    I have never been upset by Obama but it is extremely unfortunate if he is sending political appointees – and obnoxious bitches – to intimidate the boss of NASA who knows by 5 degrees more than they do about all these questions.

    It is a political intervention to NASA meant to flex the Democrat Party’s muscles. I am not aware that Bush’s administration has ever intimidated “non-partisan” bosses of similar institutions in a similar dramatic way.

    Obama must realize that he is really going to become the U.S. president – it is no longer just a joke or a speculation. He can easily choose e.g. the Lori bitch to be the new NASA boss and destroy the U.S. leadership in space research. It is not that hard to transform the U.S. into a third-world country similar to Obama’s homeland, Kenya.

  3. #3 Rob W
    December 12, 2008

    What’s probably the clearest sign that someone *can’t* be trusted with their summary of a situation?

    Well, when they explode and question your trust when you look slightly deeper.

    That’s right up there there with mushy language, nervous, constantly shifting eyes and profuse sweating, I’d imagine.

    What’s wrong with this guy? How transparent does he want to be? A far better way to approach the situation (assuming he *does* have something to hide, because if not, WTF?) would be to proactively contact the transition team, calmly explaining that they should be sure to discuss the situation with him, because there are some individual reports they might hear that may be misleading if they don’t understand the full situation. And offer plenty of assistance in guiding them to “the best people” to get an “accurate” assessment.

    See? Then he looks like he’s trying to help and make sure they have the full story, instead of looking like, well, this.

  4. #4 Kevin W. Parker
    December 12, 2008

    I’d like to point out to Mr. Motl that the NASA administrator is himself a political appointee.

    And I don’t know where he gets off calling Lori Garver a “bitch” and implying she’s totally unqualified. Garver has been an associate administrator of NASA, executive director of the National Space Society, and is an internationally recognized authority on NASA and space exploration.

    If she’s asking questions, then odds are that they’re good questions that deserve to be answered. I don’t want an administrator of anything, from NASA to my local sewage plant, to be saying to a representative of their future boss, “I don’t want to explain myself to you – just trust me.” If he’s intimidated by such questions, then that’s a sign of guilt, not competence.

  5. #5 Rob W
    December 12, 2008

    @Luboš Motl: What’s your suggested alternative? If Obama skipped the whole “transition team” thing and simply asked the interested parties in NASA (and elsewhere) what to do, that would be a conflict-of-interest disaster. Instead he tries to send people who have some expertise in each field out to try to get a balanced picture of what’s going on and what the options are.

    I’ll skip over the “Kenyan homeland” hyperbole — go find out for yourself how much time Obama has spent in Kenya.

  6. #6 Troublesome Frog
    December 12, 2008

    …Democrat Party…


  7. #7 SLC
    December 12, 2008

    Re Lubos Motl

    In moseying over to Mr. Motls’ web site, a number of thing are clear.

    1. Mr. Motl is a global warming denier.

    2. Mr. Motl is a birther which is defined as someone who denies that President Elect Obama was born in Hawaii.

    Given these indications that Mr. Motl is operating with somewhat less then 52 cards in his deck, I think we can safely ignore his comment and his vile adjective in describing Ms. Garver. Just for the information of Mr. Motl, attached is a link to a couple of comments by Dr. Phil Plait who is far more knowledgeable about the issues at NASA then is Mr. Motl.



  8. #8 Comrade PhysioProf
    December 13, 2008

    It is a political intervention to NASA meant to flex the Democrat Party’s muscles.

    The Democrat Party is not a political party I have ever heard of. Are you sure you’re talking about the correct country?

    I am not aware that Bush’s administration has ever intimidated “non-partisan” bosses of similar institutions in a similar dramatic way.


  9. #9 astronomer
    December 14, 2008

    I have suffered…er, listened to two talks given by NASA uppity-ups at meetings of the American Astronomical Society. One was a recent (and stunningly arrogant) shuttle astronaut, and the other was Griffin, right after the Pissant appointed him. Bad as he is (and don’t kid yourselves, he has proven to be a first-class jerk), Griffin is much less bad for NASA than his predecessor. However, it was *crystal* clear from both speakers that the Griffin legacy was going to be one of shoveling unimaginable amounts of taxpayer money to the aerospace behemoths with no strings attached and no corresponding commitment to either science or the country. (Sound familiar?) In fact, he was complicit in breaking the long-standing barrier between the human flight program and the science side of NASA. Ever since, science at NASA has been on life support or worse. Griffin bought Bush’s toss-off Moon/Mars crap and has been pushing it from day one. I’ve never understood that. I suppose, as usual with this crowd of thieves, that if you follow the money you will find out what’s really been going on. Anyway, the recent hoo-ha over Garver is just Griffin displaying his true colors. He’s no better than the putzes that put him in place. The sooner he and what he’s pushing are gone, the better for everybody. And hooray for Lori Garver and her crew. Integrity and real questioning are such an uncommon breath of fresh air.

  10. #10 GripperDon
    December 15, 2008

    Listen UP!! The country is going broke!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Questioning the outllandish expense of the NASA just makes sense. Re-evaluating going back to the Moon makes sense, re-evaluating sending anything more to mars makes sense. If we become a 3rd world economy then we are a 3rd world everything.

    Get a grip on the egos and start presenting the absolutely lowest cost methods for doing the needed research. AND PROVE WHY that research is needed.

    I was there when the NASA started and it’s employee thru mercury, gemini and apollo. It was shortly after that that we seemed to loose our mojo.

  11. #11 mirc
    March 8, 2009


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