[update] Since Mike Griffin has been fired as NASA administrator, I've changed the title of this article from "Is (or was...) Mike Griffin the NASA's Gorbachev?" to "Was Mike Griffin the NASA's Gorbachev? And what he'll do now?".
Since Mike Griffin has been the first and only NASA administrator that strongly supported and funded the new.space industry I do believe that he will soon leave NASA to start up his own new.space company or become the President or CEO or Chief Engineer Officer of an already existing and successful new.space company like (maybe...) SpaceX where he can try to win the new (commercial) "moon race" using the SpaceX EELV rockets... :)
Mike Griffin the NASA's Gorbachev?
he'll do now?
You know the story of Mikhail Gorbachev that was the last General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 until 1991.
Before he become its leader the Soviet Union was a nation ruled for 70 years by a hostile gerontocracy against the western countries, the democracy and all civil liberties, personal and market engaged in an arms race in the attempt to dominate the world.
Since devoted only to the production of weapons and to the support of the huge military apparatus with an army of five million soldiers, the bad economy of the Soviet Union was absolutely disastrous and unable to produce nothing more or better than a very very few consumer products, of very low quality, in insufficient quantity and very high priced, so, that, only a few privileged could buy a car or a television set, not to mention new items absolutely inaccessible to the public such as the personal computers.
In an attempt to reform a country back fifty years without diminish its military power and the domination on the countries satellites, after the death at 74 of Konstantin Chernenko the gerontocracy at the head of the Soviet Union decided to elect, as Secretary of the Communist Party, the (relatively) "young" (at "only" 54 years old) Mikhail Gorbachev.
But Gorbachev hasn't kept his promises to the Soviet Union gerontocracy, and, with the Glasnost and Perestroika, unleashed a process that in the long term (and beyond his will) has lead to the breakup of the Soviet Union and other beneficial effects like the end of the Cold War, the (almost complete) restoration of the civil rights and personal freedom, opening up the country to the world, with the entry in the free market economy, the fall of the Berlin's Wall and the return to freedom of Eastern Europe countries after 50 years of Soviet rule, the birth of an (almost) free Press, a partial (but significant) reduction of the nuclear weapons and the end of the hostility towards the world, with new trade and tourism to and from the countries of the former Soviet bloc and all the "good things" we can see today!
Although supported and (still) loved in the rest of the world, that has liberated from Cold War and (perhaps) saved (so far) by a (possible) 3rd (nuclear) World War (and as well as awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990) he was not equally loved by his people that has considered him responsible for the great suffering during the years of the transition from communism to capitalism and democracy, so, after just six years of power (and an attempted coup d'etat) he was forced to resign and the President of Russia Boris Yeltsin (who will took all the merits of this democratic "revolution") accelerated (too quickly) the process initiated by Gorbachev, the end of the USSR and the return to the capitalism.
Later he tried to return to power participating to the political election, but failed to ever reach a small percentage of voters, since he was considered too communist by the new capitalists and too capitalist by the old communists!
Well, the (brief, so far) story of Michael D. Griffin at the head of the "Soviet" NASA, looks very much like those of Mikhail Gorbachev (of which, curiously, he has the same name...) as President of the Soviet Union.
Exactly like Gorbachev, also Mike Griffin was hired, as NASA Administrator, by a group of "old" politics, backed by giant aerospace companies (and very rich NASA contractors) to "revive" the glorious story of the Apollo era returning back to the Moon (with the "Apollo on steroids") and (maybe) go to Mars and beyond.
But, exactly like Gorbachev, once reached the NASA Administrator's seat, Griffin HASN'T really done what he was hired for, but he has "changed the plan" going through different (and often wrong) "streets" to reach the same target.
He applied his "Glasnost" at NASA (that means a policy of maximal publicity, openness, and transparency in the activities of the government agency) revealing nearly everything "live" on the Press and (mainly) on the Web, while happened, publishing the ESAS plan (despite it was full of mistakes, bad evaluations and wrong designs) the details about all changes to the plan and its hardware, the (growing) costs and timelines, his concerns about the emerging countries competition (mainly from China) in the (new) Space and Moon race, including things regarding some design problems that actually wasn't (really) necessary to reveal like (e.g.) the Ares-1 vibrations issue and the lift-off drift issue.
He hired a well known and experienced Orlando Sentinel's journalist as head of the NASA PAO, has rented two buildings in two NASA centers to Google (but, unfortunately, ONLY to Google!) for the NASA-Google joint operations about Space and released all Moon and Mars maps and Moon images to a Google service (but, unfortunately, ONLY to Google!).
He has deleted the Marshall Space Flight Center Lunar Precursor Robotic Program (LPRP) but opened the doors of the NASA Ames Center (with all its technology and engineering know how) to Odyssey Moon (and, unfortunately ONLY to the Odyssey Moon team that is "The Chosen" WINNER Team of the """Google""" Lunar X Prize!!!!) also sponsoring the X-Prize-like Centennial Challenges' Lunar Lander Challenge.
He has (also) opened the doors (and the know how) of the NASA centers to smaller and new.space companies like SpaceX that (now) can launch its rockets from KSC (while I'm writing this article, the first SpaceX's Falcon-9 already is at KSC to be launched soon).
Also, I've never seen so many NASA's documents everywhere on the web, like in the last four years, but, unfortunately, great parts of the official (or "leaked") NASA's documents are ALWAYS published ONLY on THREE private owned websites and blogs (one from UK and two from USA) that put THEIR LOGO on ALL these documents and publish them on the web as they were THEIR OWN PROPERTY and one of these PRIVATE websites also puts these copyright FREE documents in a section of the forum you must PAY to see!!!
It's really incredible that NASA still doesn't release ALL its official documents everywhere and give them to ALL other space and non-space websites, blogs, newspapers and TVs, rather than ONLY to THREE private fourm and blog that publish (or resell) them as they were an "original product" of their minds!!!
Also, it's really incredible and strange that all other websites, blogs, newspapers and TVs (or, at least, those of them devoted or with a section about Space and Science) haven't protested yet for this unacceptable discrimination!!!
I hope (and suggest) to Mike Griffin (if he will remain at NASA) or the next Administrator (in any) to apply the his "Glasnost" to ALL past, present and future NASA documents, quickly releasing them to ALL paper and online newspapers, magazines, websites, blogs and forums around the world that want them and put them (BEFORE they are "leaked") on a dedicated NASA documents' online directory where everybody can easy find them.
Back on topic, I think that most "revolutionary" and "devastating" for the (old) "Soviet" NASA was/is the Griffin's "Perestroika" (the political and economic reforms) he applied to NASA in last four years.
The first decision of the "Perestroika" was the Shuttle retirement in 2010 (a giant cut of well paid NASA jobs and rich business for NASA contractors) that's something like cut half the weapons and half the soldiers of the Soviet Union's Red Army!
Then, he "invented" the ($125+ Billion) ESAS plan that will flow a very large amount of money in the NASA contractors' pockets... so, these giant companies (and their political sponsors) will be very happy... but... everything will happen in a very long timeline... so, there will be enough time to develop and build some cheaper commercial alternatives... and the early commercial alternatives sposored and funded by NASA are COTS and CRS.
Both COTS and CRS programs aren't sure to give good results (and soon) and (also) they are (in my opinion) a duplication of vehicles and services (vs. the Shuttle and the Orion) and (especially the CRS program) a giant waste of money but (surely) they're also a BIG CHANGE for NASA (like the Gorbachev's "Perestroika" was for the Soviet industry).
That's why he hasn't proposed a man-rated version of the (ready available and relatively cheap EELVs) to drive the ESAS plan's spacecrafts but two brand new rockets build with shuttle-derived hardware and new engines and motors (like the J-2X and the new SRBs) and, to be sure that no one of the existing rockets would be used in the ESAS plan, the new (and oversized) Orion capsule (+ Service Module and LAS) has been designed to be (at least) six-seven tons heavier than the max payload the biggest (existing) EELV (the Delta IV Heavy) is able to carry to LEO.
In the last three years, I have asked to myself (in my articles) and to thousands peoples (posting hundreds comments on several space forums and blogs around the world) WHY he has decided to design a six seats capsule for three-four astronauts' missions, WHY he have decided to use TWO rockets (rather than one) WHY his choice was pointed to rockets (the Ares-1 and Ares-5) that can't fly, WHY he has refused to use the (ready available, man-rated, 125+ times tested in manned launches, cheap and reliable) SSMEs, standard 4-segments SRBs and Shuttle's ETs, to develop the (completely new, very long to design, build and test, very expensive to develop, build, man-rate and underpowered) J-2X and 5-segments SRB (now, planned in TWO different versions: 5-segments for the Ares-1 and 5.5-segments for the Ares-5) that will boost the R&D costs to twice or more and will delay the first manned Orion launch to 2016 (or later) and the first (new) lunar landing to 2022 (or later) and WHY (in this bad scenario) he has (still) decided to retire the Space Shuttle fleet in 2010 opening a SIX+ YEARS GAP in the NASA ability to carry astronauts and big/"smart" payloads to LEO undermining the NASA/USA independency in Space that next year (and for a very long time) will depend from the russian Soyuz!!!
Not to mentions his visit to the China's Space Agency and his proposal (that, lately, we know, has been refuted by the Bush administration) to cooperate with China in all future space operations and spacecrafts design.
Well, in my opinion, there are ONLY two possible answers for my question about Griffin:
a) despite his six degrees, he is the most stupid NASA Administrator of its story, or...
b) he is a genius, and (like all geniuses) he has a "strategy" for NASA and its future.
So, assuming for a while, that a "six-degrees-guy" can't be stupid, the true reason WHY he has decided to adopt a so BIG Orion and TWO new and very expensive rockets (that can't fly) for the ESAS plan, is that he WANTS the "governmental space plan" to cost as much as possible (and need as much time as possible) to give to many small and private new.space companies enough time to develop, build, launch and sell to NASA, their very much cheaper rockets, cargo vehicles and man-rated capsules.
In my opinion, the main goal of the Griffin's "Perestroika" is (or was...) to trasform the (old) "Soviet" NASA (that, like all past communist countries, has only government plans and use only space hardware build by a few, big, statal owned, aerospace industries) to a (new) "Capitalist" NASA that never more will need to design and build his own "space hardware" but (soon) will just BUY (at cheaper and competitive prices) the rockets, the spacecrafts and the space "services" it needs for all its orbital, lunar, mars and "beyond" missions in space!
Of course, his strategy (assuming he has one...) has brought him many enemies, inside and outside NASA, including the big aerospace companies (that want all NASA contracts without have to share them with other small and/or new and aggressive companies) and from the politicians that support those big companies.
But the Griffin's number 1 enemies surely are the (unknown but many) guys behind the "Direct Launcher" LOBBY that seems have lots of money and several friends everywere.
I did not know WHO they are, but I've developed a theory (yes, a "conspiracy theory") about them, their origin, their plans and the reasons why they're so against Mike Griffin.
I believe that, in 2005 (before Mike Griffin became the NASA Administrator) it has been a true "battle" inside and outside NASA to get the job of NASA chief, but, after Griffin was hired, the "losers" of this "battle" hasn't accepted him and his strategy but have decided to start an underground war against him, then, they've opened some space forums and blogs (especially one located in UK) to talk about the NASA programs and the ESAS plan just wating the "right day" to start a press campaign with lots of critics against the new space programs, the ESAS plan, the new rockets and (indirectly) against Mike Griffin.
I think that they had not any precise "strategy" in the early days of their lobby nor they had any better alternative to the ESAS plan and its (badly designed) rockets, but (in my opinion) "someday" they've seen a very good and cheap alternative to the Ares rockets on the web, then, four months later, they've changed the name of that rocket concept and, using the same arguments, drawings and evaluations of costs and performances, they've started, everywhere on the web, a campaign to promote "their" rocket concept as the best alternative to the (bad and expensive) Griffin's ESAS plan and rockets.
If you have any doubt about that, you can read my article: "The TRUE story of Direct".
Undoubtedly, the Direct LOBBY has lots of money since it runs (or "controls") several space forums and blogs (mainly in USA, UK, France and Germany) and nearly all the most important space bloggers support them, insulting all the peoples that post critics against "Direct" or talk in favor of the Ares rockets or (worst!) propose better alternatives (and the same happens in the Direct lobby's owned forums, where, if you say something they did not like, your posts are deleted, and, if you insist in your opinion, you'll be banned).
If you want a little example of the power and money they have just try to write a critics against the "Direct" (Photoshop & Word) concept and/or lobby on their (never deleted) Wikipedia article or try to put your links in the Direct or Ares-1, Ares-5, Orion, ESAS and NASA articles on Wikipedia and your link to other alternative concepts will be deleted in matter of minutes by the zealant Wikipedia's Space pages moderators, some of which writes posts also on some space forums and blogs that talk about the Direct concept...
But the latest (and biggest) example of their "power" is the article (and the big, colorful, cover) that, the Popular Mechanics magazine, will devote (in its February 2009 issue) to the (FAST-SLV-like but FOUR months LATER) "Direct 2.0" Photoshop & Word concept, to be available in all american newsstands within two weeks, then, EXACTLY in the days when there will be a new US President that will (likely) decide also about a possible new NASA Administrator and/or a possible new ESAS plan that could adopt ("my"...) "Direct".
That's why Mike Griffin (seems) has decided to resign from his job as NASA chief in Jan. 20 when the new USA President, Barack Obama, will be on charge at the White House.
So, your question probably is "should Mike Griffin be kept or fired by the new President?"
Well, despite (personally) I did not agree with (nearly) nothing of what Mike Griffin has proposed, like the Shuttle retirement (that I think should be kept in service and modified to fly CREWLESS) the ESAS program, the two different ESAS rockets (that can't fly) the (wrong goals) COTS, the waste of money of the CRS program, the bad Altair design, the very dangerous and useless Hubble Servicing Mission 4 etc. I do believe (and hope) that NASA will never come back to the past (very expensive and big space companies only) projects (like the X-33 or the HL-20) or (worst!) will join the ("""new""" and """original""") Direct Launcher concept and LOBBY but will always support the new.space companies!
After all, the buzzword of the new President in his electoral campaign was "change" and (with no doubts) the current NASA Administrator has changed (and still is changing) this (old) Space Agency like no one has made before (if for the better or worse only the time will tell us).
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