Columbia lifting off from launch pad Jan 16, 2003

In a stunning admission, NASA chief Michael Griffin says America’s space shuttle program and the International Space Station have been mistakes.

“It is now commonly accepted that was not the right path,” Griffin told the editors of USA Today. “We are now trying to change the path while doing as little damage as we can.”

Asked specifically if the shuttle had been a mistake, Griffin said, “My opinion is that it was. … It was a design which was extremely aggressive and just barely possible.”


Space shuttle Columbia’s rollout to the launchpad (NASA photo)

Regarding the space station, he said, “Had the decision been mine, we would not have built the space station we’re building in the orbit we’re building it in.”

Since its debut flight in 1982, the shuttle has cost the lives of 14 astronauts.

University of Colorado space-policy expert Roger Pielke Jr. estimates NASA has spent some $150 billion on the program since its inception in 1971, and the total for the space station could exceed $100 billion by 2010, with other countries contributing to the bill.

Griffin says it’s only now that the U.S. space program is getting back on track, as he announced last week NASA hopes to send astronauts back to the moon in 2018 in a spacecraft similar to the Apollo capsule.

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