NASA chief says U.S. must stick to moon plan

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida Fri Nov 14, 2008 2:40pm EST

NASA administrator Mike Griffin speaks about the successful landing of the Phoenix Mars Lander on Mars near its north pole during a media briefing at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California May 25, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

NASA administrator Mike Griffin speaks about the successful landing of the Phoenix Mars Lander on Mars near its north pole during a media briefing at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California May 25, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Fred Prouser

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - If President-elect Barack Obama wants to abandon NASA's road map to the moon, the space agency's chief says he wants no part of it.

Not that NASA administrator Mike Griffin, a Bush administration appointee, is expecting to stay on when the Democrat takes office on January 20.

"I expect the new president and his team will have their own choice for NASA administrator," Griffin said in an interview on Friday. "If I were to be that choice I would be surprised, I would be honored. I would be willing to continue on under the right circumstances."

Griffin, who was at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the planned Friday evening launch of space shuttle Endeavour, outlined three conditions that would have to be met for him to remain on the job.

First, no turning back from the space policy laid out by U.S. President George W. Bush and endorsed by Congress to finish building the International Space Station, retire the space shuttles, return to the moon, establish a base and continue the exploration to near-Earth asteroids and Mars.

"Two successive Congresses -- one Republican and one Democrat -- have strongly endorsed the path NASA is on. I think it's the right path," Griffin said.

COLUMBIA A TURNING POINT

"For 35 years since the Nixon administration we've been on the wrong path. It took the loss of (space shuttle) Columbia and (the accident investigation) report to highlight the strategic issues to get us on the right path," he said.

"We're there. I personally will not be party to taking us off that path. Someone else may wish to, but I do not."

Griffin, a 59-year-old aerospace engineer and pilot, was appointed to head the space agency by Bush after the 2003 Columbia disaster to oversee NASA's return to flight, complete the $100 billion space station program and launch a new effort to return astronauts to the moon.

Under the exploration initiative, NASA plans to land a crew on the moon by 2020, develop a base and continue on to Mars.

Griffin said NASA cannot accomplish the goals laid out by the president and Congress with less money.

Finally, he said he would not tolerate having political appointees in management jobs.

"I think it's crucially important to have people ... who are knowledgeable and experienced in the aerospace business. In past years, we've had too many examples where that wasn't the case.

"The Bush administration did not mandate even one person that I had to have to fill out the NASA management team, so I was able to pick a good team and that's absolutely essential for any agency. We can't pick people to run the space agency based on politics, and I won't be party to that either."

(Editing by Jim Loney and Xavier Briand)

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