NASA Criticized For Lack Of Direction

CrawlerVehicle Assembly Building

An independent panel of scientists has criticized NASA for what it claims is a lack of vision.  The report doesn’t blame NASA as much as it blames the President and Congress.  However, the report also criticizes NASA due to the fact it’s doing little to further the White House’s goal of sending astronauts to an asteroid.   In one passage in the report it states, “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.’ ”  This assessment could be backed up by the fact that after NASA retired the Space Shuttle fleet, it had nothing to replace the Shuttles, which were ferrying American astronauts to the International Space Station.  Americans must now rely on Russian spaceships to launch to, and return from, the ISS.  According to Bob Crippen, former NASA astronaut and manager, who sits on the panel, he has “never seen the space agency so adrift and that includes the decade between the end of the Apollo moon landings in the early 1970s and the beginning of the shuttle program.”  Although it’s a factual statement, Crippen also points to the fact that “an asteroid mission just doesn’t make sense technically or politically and may just be too tough”.  The lack of direction can be partially attributed to the lack of funding.  NASA’s budget has been drastically reduced since the end of the Shuttle program but funding increases over the next several years.  This very critical report is not entirely fair, as NASA has been hard at work on its exploration on Mars.  InSight, which will launch in 2016 and the new rover to be launched in 2020 will bring the total number of missions exploring Mars, to seven.  The Curiosity rover has been incredibly successful to date and NASA used the newest, most innovative technology to land it on the red planet.  In defense of NASA, spokesman David 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.”  This aggressive, comprehensive approach to space exploration, doesn’t exactly lead one to believe NASA has lost its focus.  NASA is currently in the process of updating much of its infrastructure to meet the needs of the new heavy-lift rockets, including increasing the weight capacities of the crawlers.  In addition, a new Control Room is under construction.  Having been fortunate enough to have participated in a NASA Social event, this past summer, it certainly appeared as if all was full speed ahead.

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