In a recent congressional hearing, former NASA administrator Michael Griffin delivered a scathing critique of the space agency’s Artemis program, expressing concerns about its complexity, unrealistic costs, and potential risks. Griffin, who served under the Bush administration in the mid-2000s, raised doubts about the feasibility of NASA’s plans to return humans to the Moon’s surface, emphasizing the need for a more straightforward approach.
Griffin, addressing the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, minced no words as he assessed the Artemis Program: “In my judgment, the Artemis Program is excessively complex, unrealistically priced, compromises crew safety, poses very high mission risk of completion, and is highly unlikely to be completed in a timely manner even if successful.” This striking condemnation comes amid NASA’s historical challenges with budget overruns and delays.
The former administrator argued that NASA should rethink its lunar program and advocated for a restart, suggesting that collaboration with commercial partners should be abandoned. Griffin’s proposal, however, lacks concrete details, leaving lawmakers with more questions than answers and raising doubts about its feasibility.
Griffin’s plan, outlined in written testimony, envisions using NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) to deliver four crew inside an Orion capsule to the lunar surface, where they would stay for seven Earth days. This alternative, he claims, could be achieved by 2029. In contrast, NASA’s plan for Artemis III involves a more intricate process, with a SpaceX Starship meeting an Orion spacecraft in lunar orbit to transport the crew to their destination.
Critics point out that Griffin’s proposal conveniently overlooks the development of a lunar lander, a crucial component yet to be designed, let alone built. Additionally, the timeline for the powerful Block II configuration of the SLS, which would launch the crew, remains uncertain given NASA’s current pace.
While Griffin’s criticism is noteworthy, it comes with its own set of caveats. During his tenure, he opposed NASA’s commercial program, which was pivotal in developing SpaceX’s Crew Dragon—an integral part of the agency’s current activities in Earth’s orbit. Suggestions to terminate contracts with companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin may face resistance from lawmakers and industry stakeholders.
Nevertheless, Griffin’s remarks add to the growing concerns among lawmakers about the escalating costs of NASA’s Artemis program. The debate over the future of the lunar return initiative continues, with stakeholders grappling to find a balance between ambition and financial feasibility.