December 5, 2012

NASA lost in space, needs goals, panel says

The independent panel blames Congress and the president for not giving the space agency better direction.

The Associated Press

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This Tuesday, July 19, 2011 image provided by NASA shows the International Space Station photographed by a member of Atlantis' STS-135 crew during a fly around as the shuttle departed the station on the last space shuttle mission. A panel of outside experts said Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012 that NASA is adrift without a coherent vision for where it should be going. The report by the National Academy of Sciences doesn't blame the space agency. It faults the president, Congress and the nation. (AP Photo/NASA)

When Obama took office, he appointed an outside committee that said the moon plan wasn't workable. The committee offered several options, including an asteroid mission as a possible stepping stone to Mars. Obama chose that path.

Syracuse University public policy professor W. Henry Lambright, who wasn't part of the latest study but has written about space policy, said Obama has not sold NASA, Congress or the country on his plan.

"I really think it's Obama's fault," Lambright said. NASA "is suffering from benign neglect."

American University policy professor Howard McCurdy, who also wasn't on the panel, said he sees the problem more as a lack of money than a lack of goals.

The report said NASA does not have enough money for its too many projects and has difficulty managing its 10 centers efficiently.

In his statement, NASA's Weaver said: "We're fully utilizing the International Space Station; developing a heavy-lift rocket and multi-purpose crew vehicle capable of taking American astronauts into deep space; facilitating development of commercial capabilities for cargo and crew transport to low Earth orbit; expanding our technological capabilities for the human and robotic missions of today and tomorrow; pursuing a robust portfolio of science missions such as the James Webb Space Telescope; developing faster and cleaner aircraft and inspiring the next generation of exploration leaders."

Smith said that statement itself shows the problem: "If it takes you that many phrases to explain it, then you do not have a crisp, clear strategic vision."

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