For a pilot, a trip to Oshkosh, Wis., for EAA AirVenture is sort of like a kid going to a candy store. So many airplanes, so little time.
Thousands of aircraft fly in for the annual Experimental Aircraft Association air show: homebuilts, vintage military warbirds, small private planes and more.
NASA Administrator Michael Griffin was able to pick out a number of his favorites during a quick driving tour of the airfield. "If I could fly any aircraft, it would be a P-51," said Griffin as he passed a row of the World War II era military plane.
Griffin is a pilot himself. He holds a flight instructor certificate with instrument and multiengine ratings and flew the plane he co-owns to Wisconsin.
Griffin was at AirVenture, not as a spectator or aviator, but as NASA's representative to help EAA celebrate 50 years of the ultimate experimental flight -- spaceflight.
The NASA administrator was in Oshkosh 50 years to the day that President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the National Air and Space Act establishing NASA. He spoke to more than 300 enthusiastic aerospace fans in a question-and-answer session.
Most of the questions centered on NASA's future and its plans to return to the moon, then go on to Mars. "If we can stay on track with budgets and plans as currently approved by Congress we should have a lunar base getting started around 2022 or 2023, 15 years from now," Griffin told the crowd.
Sitting in the front row of the pavilion were four little girls from the World Group Home School in nearby Monona who listened attentively. They too have a stake in NASA. They helped name an International Space Station module "Harmony" in a nationwide contest last year.
They also asked Griffin a number of questions. One was scientific: why does higher gravity make things rounder? Another was: have you ever been to the space station yourself?
But the question that got the biggest response from the EAA members in attendance was about the space shuttle, when a man asked if NASA would bring a shuttle to AirVenture once they're all retired.
"I have to say, probably not," said Griffin. "But let me explain why. It's not cheap to move a shuttle. The only way it can be done is to move it on the back of a 747 and it costs us many million of dollars to do it. That's an expenditure of public funds that's probably just not justified."
Even though they may not have liked the answer many apparently liked Griffin and his forthright manner. He got a standing ovation.
NASA Langley Research Center