Science panel: NASA seems lost in space
Report blames lack of direction on Obama, Congress.
— NASA, the agency that epitomized the “Right Stuff,” looks lost in space and doesn’t have a clear sense of where it is going, an independent panel of science and engineering experts said in a stinging report Wednesday.
The report by a panel of the distinguished National Academy of Sciences doesn’t blame the space agency; it faults the president, Congress and the nation for not giving NASA better direction. At the same time, it said NASA is doing little to further the White House’s goal of sending astronauts to an asteroid.
In one withering passage, the panel said NASA’s mission and vision statements are so vague and “generic” that they “could apply to almost any government research and development agency, omitting even the words ‘aeronautics’ or ‘space.’ ”
The space shuttles were retired in 2011 and are now museum pieces. Few people are paying attention to the International Space Station, and American astronauts have to rely on Russian spaceships to get there and back. Meanwhile, rocketbuilding is being out- sourced to private companies, and a commercial venture plans to send people to the moon by the end of the decade.
Academy panel member Bob Crippen, a retired NASA manager and astronaut who piloted the first space shuttle mission, said he has never seen the space agency so adrift. He said that includes the decade between the end of the Apollo moon landings in the early 1970s and the beginning of the shuttle program.
“I think people (at NASA) want to be focused a little more and know where they are going,” Crippen said.
NASA spokesman David Weaver defended the agency, saying in an emailed statement that it has clear and challenging goals. He listed several projects, including continued use of the International Space Station and efforts to develop a heavyduty rocket and crew capsule capable of taking astronauts into deep space.
John Logsdon, a space policy expert who advised the Obama campaign in 2008, said the panel’s report, which is more strongly worded than usual for the academy, “rather fairly points its fingers at the White House.”
“There’s a general sense of disappointment that the administration has not been more bold and visionary in setting out a path for the program,” said Logsdon.