WASHINGTON — NASA Administrator Michael Griffin has clashed repeatedly with the White House in recent months — a rift that escalated when budget officials heavily edited a statement he was submitting to Congress about China's space ambitions and spilled into the open last week in a leaked e-mail that accused the budget office of doing "everything possible" to walk away from the $100-billion international space station.
Despite growing dismay that the United States will have no way to fly its astronauts to the space station after the space shuttles are retired in 2010, Griffin said the White House Office of Management and Budget was content to pay Russia for the service. But if that deal fell through, he wrote in the e-mail, "well, that was okay, too," with White House officials.
In his draft comments to Congress, Griffin laid out in strong terms his often-expressed concerns about America's fading dominance in space, and he warned that China is emerging quickly as a rival.
"A Chinese landing on the moon prior to our own return will create a stark perception that the U.S. lags behind not only Russia, but also China, in space," he wrote. The OMB deleted that passage and several others before it went to Congress.
Griffin publicly retracted the sharp-elbowed comments in his e-mail after it leaked, saying that they were taken out of context and that he values advice from OMB and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), but two senior NASA officials said this past week that the e-mail accurately reflects the growing strains.
One official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect his job, said that despite support for NASA's mission from top White House officials, others have muzzled NASA's leaders and cut or redirected funding for essential agency programs.