Academic researchers complained that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration no longer offers a way to send student-designed experiments into orbit.
"It simply is not among the top priorities I have at NASA to fund student experiments," Griffin said during a question-and-answer session. "It is nice when we can afford to do student experiments in the context of a university, but right now, as strapped for cash as we are, I'm simply not sure that is a luxury we can afford."
For years, NASA offered a program known as the Get Away Special, for projects to hitch a ride into space. USU was among the leaders in taking advantage of this program.
Since the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated during re-entry in 2003, NASA has tasked its space craft fleet with finishing the International Space Station. The space agency plans to retire the remaining shuttles in 2014, and it is unclear whether the replacement vehicles will have space for experiments.
Former USU researcher Gil Moore, a high-profile member of the small satellites community, questioned the NASA chief on denying access to students.
"Can't you figure out a way to get us some opportunities to fly on U.S. launch vehicles?" he asked. "We're not asking you to pay for the satellite, just get us some rides, get us some access to space."
Griffin responded that it is not NASA's job to broker deals to put student projects into space.
"NASA is not the galactic overlord of space, nor should it be," Griffin said.
Robert Twiggs, director of Stanford University's Space and Systems Development Laboratory, said NASA is doing itself a disservice considering its aging workforce. The space agency should have a more active interest in preparing the next generation to step into those coming vacancies, he said.
Griffin noted during his presentation that 25 percent of NASA's workforce is eligible for retirement in the next five years. He suggested that tomorrow's engineers and scientists must seek experience in the private aerospace industry, and not simply at universities.
"I was disappointed he placed that as such a low priority," Twiggs said of student access to space.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the conference dedicated to supporting companies and researchers involved in developing small satellites.
Several hundred attendees are in Logan through Thursday for the conference.