CAPE CANAVERAL — In congressional testimony and speeches around the country, NASA Administrator Mike Griffin has presented the Bush administration's space policy as under pressure but on track to returning humans to the moon by 2020. His public face has been steadfast.
But privately, the agency chief is far less certain.
In a remarkably candid internal e-mail to top advisers, Griffin lashed out last month at the White House for what he called a "jihad" to shut down the space shuttle, expressed frustration at the lack of funding for a new moon rocket — and despaired about the future of America's human space flight program.
"My own view is about as pessimistic as it is possible to be," Griffin wrote on Aug. 18.
NASA on Friday confirmed the authenticity of the e-mail, which offers a rare insight into Griffin's views as the agency faces its greatest challenge since the end of the Apollo era and perhaps in its 50-year history.
Griffin wrote his e-mail in response to messages from advisers encouraging him to call off the retirement of the shuttle. In the e-mail, Griffin says he fully expects the next president to order NASA to continue flying the shuttle, even though he considers the aging orbiter unsafe and consuming money needed to design and build his Ares moon rocket and Orion crew capsule.
Griffin last week acknowledged that he recently ordered his agency to look into the possibility of more shuttle flights after the orbiter's planned retirement in 2010, but his e-mail makes clear he did so grudgingly.
"They will tell us to extend shuttle," he says of a new administration. "There is no other politically tenable course. It will appear irrational — heck, it will be irrational — to say we've built a space station we cannot use, that we're throwing away a $100-billion investment, when the cost of saving it is merely to continue flying shuttle."
The White House declined to comment when asked about the e-mail. But a few hours later, Griffin penned a retraction.
"The leaked internal e-mail fails to provide the contextual framework for my remarks, and my support for the administration's policies," he said in a statement.