Former NASA administrator Michael Griffin, who served under the Bush administration in the mid 2000s, has told US lawmakers that the space agency's plans to return humans to the Moon's surface are far too convoluted, expensive, and unrealistic.
It's a striking condemnation of what's supposed to be the country's triumphant lunar return over half a century after the last Apollo mission — and not entirely misplaced either, given NASA's massive budget overruns and delays.
"I will be direct," he told the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee during a recent hearing on the space agency's Artemis program, as quoted by Ars Technica. "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."
Worse yet, China could easily beat the US to the punch, Griffin warned.
As a result, the former administrator argued that NASA needs to "restart" its Moon program, but this time without the collaboration of commercial partners.
Unfortunately, Griffin's vague plan raises far more questions than it can answer, a seemingly out-of-touch suggestion that's unlikely to convince lawmakers.
Griffin's plan to keep "Artemis on track," as outlined in a written testimony, involves having NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) deliver a crew of four inside an Orion capsule to the lunar surface and have them stay there for seven Earth days, something that could be completed as soon as 2029.
In contrast, NASA's first crewed return to the lunar surface, Artemis III, is far more multifaceted and involves a SpaceX Starship that meets with an Orion spacecraft in lunar orbit to deliver the crew to their destination.
Griffin's plan is far easier said than done. As Ars points out, he conveniently glossed over the development of a lunar lander, which hasn't yet been designed, let alone built. Even the powerful Block II configuration of the SLS, which would launch the crew, is likely still many years out, given the agency's current pace.
There are other reasons we should take his comments with a grain of salt. During his tenure, Griffin also opposed NASA's commercial program, which ultimately led to the development of SpaceX's Crew Dragon, a cornerstone of the agency's presence in Earth's orbit today.
And Griffin's suggestions to "terminate" contracts with the likes of SpaceX and Blue Origin will likely fall on deaf ears.
Nonetheless, his criticism is unlikely to completely fly over the heads of lawmakers, who have long been balking at the ballooning costs of NASA's Artemis program.