Expert panel: NASA seems lost in space, needs goal

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Crippen said an asteroid mission just doesn’t make sense technically or politically and may just be too tough.

“I hate to use the word credible, but people don’t buy it,” said academy panel member Marcia Smith, president of Space and Technology Policy Group. “They don’t feel that the asteroid mission is the right one.”

The reason people aren’t buying it is that they don’t see money budgeted for it and don’t see the choice of target, said panel chairman Albert Carnesale, former chancellor of the University of California, Los Angeles. Inside NASA, “people were wondering: What are we doing to actually accomplish this?” Carnesale said at a news conference.

After the 2003 shuttle Columbia accident, the independent board investigating what wrong said NASA needed a bigger long-term plan for human exploration. Then-President George W. Bush announced that the shuttle would be retired and that NASA’s new goal would be to return astronauts to the moon with a permanent base there as a stepping stone to Mars.

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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Online:

The report: http://bit.ly/TI405v

NASA: www.nasa.gov

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