WASHINGTON — Michael D. Griffin, President Bush's nominee to become the new NASA administrator, told senators at his confirmation hearing Tuesday that he would reassess the agency's decision not to use a space shuttle to service the aging Hubble Space Telescope.
Griffin also said he would do his best to hasten the development of a new spacecraft to replace the shuttle, noting that the scheduled retirement of the orbiter in 2010 could begin a five-year period in which the United States would have to use foreign-built spaceships for manned flights until a replacement is ready.
"The decision not to execute the planned shuttle servicing mission was made in the immediate aftermath of the loss of the Columbia," said Griffin, a Johns Hopkins University physicist.
"When we return to flight, it will be with essentially a new vehicle, which will have a new risk analysis associated with it. At that time, I think we should reassess the earlier decision in light of what we learn after we return to flight."
NASA's previous administrator, Sean O'Keefe, considered a shuttle mission to repair and upgrade the Hubble too risky. His decision drew protests, not least from Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat whose district includes NASA centers that deal with the orbiting telescope.
If its steadying gyroscopes and aging batteries are not replaced, Hubble is expected to lose its ability to support scientific investigations by 2007 or 2008.
Introducing Griffin to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which has the job of referring the nomination to the full Senate, Mikulski set an effusive tone echoed by most on the panel.
"Much has been made of the fact that he is a rocket scientist," Mikulski said. "Thank God!"