Editor's note: The following selection is repeated - verbatim - from an ongoing "Ask the Administrator" dialog with Mike Griffin, located on InsideNASA, and can be viewed by anyone at NASA:
Question(s): To preface this question, I have already read your answers that make it clear that the "Vision" carriers a higher priority than sustaining our research edge. What I do not understand is: (1) How can the Vision be implemented within the resource constraints we face? From the data and trends I'm seeing, there is an Achilles' mismatch between budgets & costs and schedules & progress. (2) How is the "Vision" more beneficial to the Nation than NASA's other responsibility to sustain preeminence in the sciences and technologies of aerospace? Thanks for inviting such questions. From: Marc G. Millis (Glenn Research Center)
Response: The "Vision" is nothing more than a shorthand term for "extending human presence beyond LEO, first to the Moon, and then later to Mars." If we get nothing more than the budget we have today, in constant dollars, we can build the transportation architecture we have planned, and return humans to the Moon by 2020. That is what the program plan and the accompanying cost analysis shows. There might be some hidden flaw in this assessment, but I really do not think so. We've looked at it pretty carefully, with appropriate fiscal conservatism in our planning. It's not as fast as we managed it during the Apollo years, but the funding peak of that time was quite a bit more pronounced!
Your second question requires a value judgment. I cannot prove, in the sense that one can construct a mathematical proof, that it is more beneficial to the United States to reestablish the capability to operate on, and push back, the space frontier than it would be to spend more money on science and technology not associated with human spaceflight. I believe that to be the case, and I have given many speeches delineating the reasons I hold that belief (all of which are available on the NASA website), but I cannot prove it. In any case there is the matter of balance to address. I would not support a plan in which all of NASA were devoted to human exploration, any more than I would support the opposite. Today, about 62% of NASA funding is devoted to human spaceflight, 32% is assigned to Science (a historical high), 3% is allocated to aeronautics, and 3% to "other". Many individuals would seek a different balance level, but this is the one which has collectively emerged as a fairly consistent product of the innately political judgments which must be made as to how public funding should be allocated to our nation's civil aeronautics and space programs.