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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Michael Griffin
NASA Administrator
August 5, 2005

Michael Griffin
Thanks for inviting me today. It's an exciting time for NASA. The crew of Discovery has dealt successfully with a number of challenging issues in our first Return to Flight mission. We have made great improvements to the safety of the shuttle although there is still important work to do before we launch again. The crew has done a great job and they are ready to come home on Monday. I have been extremely pleased to see so much interest in this mission and the space program and I am looking forward to your questions.

Matthew, from Los Angeles writes:
After the tragedy of Columbia, do the current astronauts have spare parts to repair and replace? Also, would it be feasible to send a rescue shuttle up to save them?

Thanks for your time.

Michael Griffin
We are in the process of testing several repairs techniques for thermal tile heat shield damage and other potential problems on the shuttle. Some of those things are aboard Discovery on the current mission. Also, we have Atlantis in the Vehicle Assembly Building, on standby, in case a rescue mission is needed. But right now, Discovery has been given a clean bill of health for a safe return.

Daniel, from Great Barrington, MA writes:
Hi I am a 15 year old very interested in space flight. It would be so cool to be an astronaut. How is the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) going to be different from the shuttle? Will the CEV External Fuel Tank not shed like it does on the shuttle? Is it going to be smaller or larger? Thanks so much.

Michael Griffin
It is very cool to be an astronaut, Daniel. But, it also is very demanding. It requires very high level physical and mental discipline and great dedication. If you are interested, I recommend you focus your studies on math, engineering and the physical sciences. Our new generation of space vehicles to replace the shuttle and take to the Moon, Mars, and beyond have many similarities with the shuttle, as well as many major differences and major improvements in safety and capability. We will be announcing more details on that in just a few weeks. But the astronauts who will fly these missions to the Moon and Mars are people who are about your age right now. So study hard and join us.

Jeff, from Brick, New Jersey writes:
Mr Griffin,Now that it seems the space program and space exploration is something of the present, is there a time frame to get humans to other planets? With signs of life once existing on Mars, wouldn't it be in the human races best interest to explore planets such as Mars to see what is out there? Besides Mars being able to have humans explore on it's surface, what other planets could possibly provide the same exploration for humans? Thank you for your time and keep up the good work. Jeff frome Brick, New Jersey

Michael Griffin
The President has given us the goal of coming back to the moon, on to Mars, and beyond. We have a plan to achieve that goal. The things we will learn going to Mars and other destinations, as well as exploration with probes and telescopes, will tell us more about the potential for exploration on other planets, asteroids and other destinations beyond Earth. I think America should lead this effort.

RJ, from Texas writes:
What kind of food do the astronauts take with them? You always see in the movies that it is all in tubes. Is that true?

Michael Griffin
Space food has come a long way over the years. Early on, there were lots of food in tubes and in dehydrated pouches and I’m told it didn’t taste all that great. Today, our crews on the shuttle and space station eat a lot more food that resembles what you would have on your table at home that they can heat in a galley in the shuttle’s lower deck. For example, last night for dinner, the Discovery crew had meals ranging from beef brisket to shrimp cocktail to barbecued chicken.

mitch, from phila., pa writes:
what is the temperature of the hottest tiles during atmospheric re-entry? thank you, mb philly

Michael Griffin
Approximately 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Bill, from Arlington, VA writes:
Can you describe the vision for spaceflight in the next 10 years... the next 50? With the shuttle becoming rapidly outdated, what potential vehicles would we use to return to the moon and venture beyond? Thanks

Michael Griffin
Over the next 5 years, we will be using the shuttle to continue building the International Space Station. Over the next 10 years, we will build and test our new generation of space ships and planning our next landing on the moon. In the years beyond that we will be using what we learn on our lunar mission to prepare for the trip to Mars. And the knowledge gained on that journey will help us get ready to explore even farther.

Brian, from Lewisburg, PA writes:
Do we ever plan on going back to the Moon? Or has all of our focus shifted toward Mars?

Michael Griffin
We will indeed go to the moon. There are many important scientific opportunities there, and it will serve as a testing ground as we learn to live and work on others worlds in preparation for the journey to Mars. The moon is an important place to do this because we can get there in 3 days. It takes 8 months to get to Mars. We want to learn all we can before venturing to far. It’s kind of like the opposite of that saying "don’t try this at home." We want to try things as close to home as possible to make sure they work properly.

Joe, from Brenham, Texas writes:
I read that the shuttle astronauts are 200 miles above the earth. Dosen't seem all that far in earth distance. What is the current thinking on how large the universe is and how far can humans travel into it?

Michael Griffin
Actually, Joe, they are about 223 miles above the Earth and you are right that is not very far at all. The moon, for example, is a quarter of a million miles from Earth and Mars is about 40 million miles away. Earth is 93 million miles from the Sun and the farthest planet from the Sun is Pluto at nearly 4 BILLION miles.

Michael, from Sydney writes:
Consider the billions of dollars that are utilized for the purpose of space research, i.e. Shuttle launches, Space probes, Trips being planned for Earth's Moon and also for Mars.

It is known that it is most unlikely any form of life could exist on any other planet within our solar system, so why continue spending so much on robotic missions to other worlds searching for life when the needs of our own world require such resources.

The process of sending people Mars seems to fall along side this as well, why spend billions and billions of dollars sending perhaps 4 or 6 people to a extremely inhospitable planet and then return them when that money could be spent on aid and assisting mankind.

I guess my point in short is, why use so many resources on other planets when our own so desperately needs them right now. Fix the problems here before we start expanding, or all that will happen is that we will bring our old bad habits to new worlds.

Michael Griffin
When we look inward, we indeed see many pressing human problems that need attention. It has always been that way, and I suspect it always will be. But looking inward is not how mankind has advanced and made things better. That usually comes from looking outward. The great explorers and inventors through time have discovered new and better ways of doing things and improving the human condition by venturing into the unknown. Those efforts were bold and risky, but they resulted in discoveries that have improved the human condition, often in ways that these explorers and inventors never dreamed of when they set out on their journey.

Mark, from Carson, California writes:
Michael Griffin, Why hasn't hasn't NASA gone back to the original External Fuel Tank Foam Insulation that was used in the begining of the Space Shuttle Program? According to The Investors Business Daily the original insulation stuck to the tank better and was 10 times less likely, to cause damage, to the Space Shuttle.

Michael Griffin
It is the same foam and it did chip off. We have said we are processing and flying a test vehicle and we are learning new engineering lessons every day.

Michael, from North Muskegon, MI writes:
Administrator Griffin, My congratulations to NASA on their most recent success in bringing the U.S. back into space, and my hopes this is only the beginning of our return to the universe.

Historically, the United States has always been the world leader in humankind's exploration of space. I think it is important for America to retain its position leading us to look at space--for the advancment of knowledge, scientific benefits, and national security. What can NASA do in the next twenty years to keep America as the world's leading space explorer?

Michael Griffin
We are already doing it. To keep American preeminent in space, NASA can follow the plan laid out for us by President Bush. That plan over the next 20 years sends us back to the moon, on to Mars, and looking toward destinations beyond. It is mankind’s destiny, I believe, to explore. There is no question in my mind that human beings will eventually explore and settle other worlds. The only question is when and how, what language those explorers will speak, and whose flag they will plant.

Richard, from Cambridge MA writes:
First, I'd like to thank you and all of NASA for doing the one best thing that NASA does-showcasing the greatness of American scientific and engineering talent and the goodness of the people who work for NASA. You guys are inspirational in spite of what anyone thinks or says. Question:

Are you concerned that America is loosing its preeminance in science and technology and that a new wave of anti-intelectualism is overtaking our country?

Michael Griffin
Thank you for your thoughts about our efforts here at NASA. To your question about anti-intellectualism, you might think so from watching television, but I don’t watch much TV. I think the duty of NASA, other important government agencies, our academic institutions and American business is to make sure this country maintains its traditional and well-earned preeminence in science and technology. Human beings will, indeed, explore the cosmos and America needs to be in the lead. When men land on Mars, I know whose flag I want to see flying on that planet’s surface.

Mary, from San Jose, CA writes:
What type of vehicle is planned for use when the current shuttle program is phased out in several years? Is it a more modern shuttle, or a completely different focus?

Michael Griffin
Our new generation of space craft will incorporate many things from our previous and current programs and many things that are new. They will be safer and have greater capabilities than anything we have flown before and they will be designed to take us beyond Earth orbit to other destinations beyond our world.

Kevin, from McCook, Nebraska writes:
What is the purpose of this mission, and what significant goals will this mission help us to reach?

Michael Griffin
This is a test flight of new inspection and repair systems we have put in place to make the shuttle safer. Also, we are delivering needed supplies to the astronauts on the International Space Station, such as food, water and clothes. We are also making important repairs to the Space Station so that it will continue to operate safely and support our scientific work up on it.

Most of the new things we are testing have been a great success. We have also learned that some things, like the foam on the external fuel tank, still need work. That is important information to help us continue making the shuttle safer.

Joseph, from Ogden, Utah writes:
If NASA is forced to completely redesign the space shuttle (or replace it with a safer space vehicle), how will this affect private companies looking to break into space exploration and space tourism? Will the agency overseeing space exploration be more strict as far as safety goes if it is decided that the space shuttle fleet is not fit to fly?

Michael Griffin
We are well along in the process of designing the new generation of space ships to replace the shuttle when it goes out of service five years from now to continue mankind’s exploration of space. The opportunities for private enterprise are enormous. As the need for new technologies and developments continues through this process, forward-looking and innovative private companies can count on opportunities to take part.

Of course, safety will always be our top priority in the always-risky field of space exploration.

Michael Griffin
Thanks for your questions. I am enjoying my tenure at NASA. I thank the President for the opportunity to serve in this important position and I am excited about America’s future in space.

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