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Michael D. Griffin

Michael Douglas Griffin
Michael Douglas Griffin, official photo portrait as NASA administrator Born November 1, 1949
Aberdeen, MarylandNationality AmericanOccupation Physicist, aerospace engineer Known for Administrator of NASA
For other people with the same name, see Michael Griffin (disambiguation).

Michael Douglas Griffin (born November 1, 1949 in Aberdeen, Maryland) is an American physicist, aerospace engineer and the current Administrator of NASA, since April 13, 2005. As the chief of America's space agency, Dr. Griffin oversees such areas as the future of human spaceflight, the fate of the Hubble telescope and NASA's role in understanding climate change. He had previously worked at NASA including as Associate Administrator for Exploration. When he was nominated as NASA chief, Dr. Griffin was working as the head of the Space Department at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. While he describes himself modestly as "a simple aerospace engineer from a small town," Griffin has held several high-profile political appointments. In 2007, he was named to the TIME 100, the magazine's list of the 100 most influential people.[1]

Dr. Griffin's appointment was associated with a significant shift in the direction of the agency. He began signaling intended changes at his Senate confirmation hearing (see current plans for NASA below).


Long-term vision for space

In 2004 testimony to Congress on the future of human spaceflight, he stated, "for me the single overarching goal of human space flight is the human settlement of the solar system, and eventually beyond. I can think of no lesser purpose sufficient to justify the difficulty of the enterprise, and no greater purpose is possible." In his testimony he also advocated heavy-lift launch capabilities, development of space qualified nuclear power systems, in situ resource utilization, and cost-effective medium-size transport to low Earth orbit.

Griffin told a Senate subcommittee that the first book he ever received was a book on astronomy and space when he was five years old, and "I was absolutely fascinated by it, and from that time forward, I never considered for myself anything other than being a scientist or engineer or mathematician and involving myself in the space business."

Griffin has collaborated with several space advocacy organizations such as the National Space Society, Mars Society and the Planetary Society:

  • Griffin and astronaut Owen Garriott were the team co-leaders for a study commissioned by the Planetary Society entitled "Extending Human Presence Into the Solar System" in 2004. Griffin cited this study in his first press conference as NASA Administrator to answer a question about sending humans to Mars, saying "I would urge you to download that report from the website because I don't have any better thinking to offer you than what I put into that report." [2]
  • Griffin serves on the Steering Committee of the Mars Society, which is dedicated to human settlement of Mars. Mars Society president Robert Zubrin recounts in his book, The Case for Mars, that in 1991, after Zubrin presented his ideas about a Mars mission architecture with Griffin, then NASA Associate Administrator for Exploration, Griffin presented these ideas to then NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin.

On September 28, 2007, Michael Griffin said that NASA aims to put a man on Mars by 2037.[3]

Criticism of NASA budget management

Griffin has been criticized by space research organizations such as NASA Ames Research Center life sciences group for shifting portions of NASA's budget from science to spaceflight[4]. Griffin had stated that he would not shift "one thin dime" of funding from science to human spaceflight, but less than six months later, in February 2006, NASA revealed a budget that reduced space research funding by about 25%, including indefinite deferrals of planned programs such as the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter, the Terrestrial Planet Finder, and the Space Interferometry Mission. [5]

Funding for a New York company to research the Prometheus space nuclear program has also been put on hold, although Griffin has said he is anxious to pursue Prometheus after the earlier-priority development of the new spacecraft is completed. Earlier, in November 2005, funding for life science research conducted largely out of Ames Research Center was cut by 80%, prompting representatives of the Ames life sciences group to write a scathing letter to Griffin criticizing this cut.[4]

The NASA field centers focused mainly on science rather than on human spaceflight, such as Ames and Glenn Research Center, have seen general budgetary downsizing, and many science contracts with outside researchers have been canceled. [6] Griffin attributed these cuts, along with cuts in the human spaceflight budget, as being necessitated by a $3.2 billion shortfall. [7] The National Research Council also concluded that NASA's total funding has not been enough to fulfill all its mandates and remain strong in science. [8]

Limitations on NASA's budget include a mandated continuation of the Space Shuttle program, including safety upgrades and testing; the mandated construction of the International Space Station; the mandated development of the Vision for Space Exploration architecture; programs outside of human spaceflight, consisting of science research and aeronautics research; and an ever-increasing share of NASA's budget devoted to line-item earmarks sometimes characterized as pork spending.

Pressure to increase the number of space shuttle flights

The Vision for Space Exploration, announced by President Bush in 2004, mandates that NASA must use the space shuttle to finish construction of the International Space Station by the end of 2010. By June 2006, due to ongoing concerns with the safety of the Shuttle in the wake of the Columbia disaster, only one flight had been performed, and the administration mandate required 18 more Shuttle flights to be performed in the remaining four and a half years.

Griffin approved the launch of the space shuttle Discovery for July 2006 to perform the second return-to-flight mission, thereby overriding the NASA Chief Safety and Mission Assurance Officer, Bryan O'Connor. Although O'Connor said there were still unresolved concerns that foam insulation could break off of the external fuel tank and damage the orbiter, Griffin characterized the risk as acceptable. Griffin argued that it would be better to test one change at a time. With that flight NASA was testing the removal of protuberance air-load ramps from cable and fuel line fittings on the exterior of the external fuel tank.[9]

Views regarding global warming

In a follow-up interview to his May 31 interview with NPR's Steve Inskeep airing June 1, 2007 on NPR News' Morning Edition, Griffin said the following:

"I have no doubt that global -- that a trend of global warming exists. I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with. To assume that it is a problem is to assume that the state of earth's climate today is the optimal climate, the best climate that we could have or ever have had and that we need to take steps to make sure that it doesn't change.
First of all, I don't think it's within the power of human beings to assure that the climate does not change, as millions of years of history have shown, and second of all, I guess I would ask which human beings - where and when - are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now is the best climate for all other human beings. I think that's a rather arrogant position for people to take."[10]

Prominent climate scientists have referred to his remarks as ignorant.[11] In particular, James Hansen, NASA's top official on climate change, said Griffin’s comments showed “arrogance and ignorance”, as millions will likely be harmed by global warming.[12]Jerry Mahlman, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said that Griffin was either “totally clueless” or “a deep antiglobal warming ideologue.”[13]

Follow up

In a closed-door meeting on June 4, 2007 at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Griffin said:

“Unfortunately, this is an issue which has become far more political than technical, and it would have been well for me to have stayed out of it.” “All I can really do is apologize to all you guys.... I feel badly that I caused this amount of controversy over something like this.”[14]


Griffin's prior experience includes a previous stop at APL in the 1980s, when he helped design the successful Delta 180 series of missile-defense technology satellites for the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization. After leaving APL in 1986, he served as the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization’s deputy for technology, then as the chief engineer and later Associate Administrator for Exploration at NASA Headquarters.

In 1993, Michael Griffin wrote a letter criticizing problems in the design review process for the International Space Station.

In the years following his first tour with NASA, Griffin was president and chief operating officer of In-Q-Tel, a private, non-profit enterprise funded by the Central Intelligence Agency to identify and invest in companies developing cutting-edge technologies that serve national security interests. Griffin’s resume also includes leadership roles at Orbital Sciences Corporation and technical positions at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and at Computer Sciences Corporation.

Michael Griffin was formally sworn in by Vice President Dick Cheney on June 28, 2005.

Before his appointment as NASA Administrator, Griffin was president-elect of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). He is a member of the American Astronautical Society and International Academy of Astronautics.

On March 11, 2005, President George W. Bush announced his intention to nominate Michael Griffin to serve as the 11th Administrator of NASA. He was confirmed by the Senate on April 13, 2005.

ON March 13, 2008 Michel Griffin was awarded the titled of the 74th honorary chancellor at Florida Southern College during their annual Founder's Day Ceremony.


Dr. Griffin holds seven degrees, and is pursuing his eighth. In chronological order of attainment, Dr. Griffin's degrees include:

Degree University Year BS Physics Johns Hopkins University1971MS Aerospace Science The Catholic University of America1974PhD Aerospace Engineering University of Maryland, College Park1977MEng Electrical Engineering University of Southern California1979MS Applied Physics Johns Hopkins University1983MBAMaster of Business Administration Loyola College in MarylandMEng Civil Engineering The George Washington University1998

Dr. Griffin was also working toward an MS in computer science at Johns Hopkins University before being appointed as NASA chief. He has worked at the Jet Propulsion Lab and APL. Dr. Griffin has been a professor at various universities, teaching courses in spacecraft design, applied mathematics, guidance and navigation, compressible flow, computational fluid dynamics, spacecraft altitude control, astrodynamics, and introductory aerospace engineering. He is the lead author of more than two dozen technical papers, and is co-author with James R. French of the graduate astronautical engineering textbook, "Space Vehicle Design." ISBN 1-56347-539-1 Dr. Griffin is also a general aviation flight instructor and pilot, and part-owner of a small airplane.


  1. ^ Complete List - The TIME 100 - TIME
  2. ^ Aim for Mars study report
  3. ^, NASA aims to put man on Mars by 2037
  4. ^ a b The Scientist News
  5. ^ Washington Post article from April 1, 2006
  6. ^ USA Today April 3, 2006: NASA budget programs
  7. ^ NASA budget emphasizes space exploration,
  8. ^ Science NASA Cutbacks Cause Uncertainty among Space Researchers
  9. ^ Discovery's Goal: A Quiet Trip
  10. ^ NASA Administrator Not Sure Global Warming A Problem
  11. ^ NASA chief regrets remarks on global warming - Climate Change -
  12. ^ [1][2]
  13. ^ NASA Leader: Who Says Warming Is a Problem? - New York Times
  14. ^ NASA chief regrets remarks on global warming - Climate Change -

External links

Links related to nomination as NASA Administrator

Preceded by
Sean O'KeefeNASA Administrator
2005 – present Incumbent
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