Valdosta Daily Times

National, International News

December 6, 2012

Expert panel: NASA seems lost in space, needs goal

WASHINGTON — NASA, the agency that epitomized the “Right Stuff,” seems 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 one place the White House wants to send astronauts   — an asteroid — doesn’t seem to be getting the engines firing at NASA, they said.

“More than two years after the president announced the interim goal of sending humans to an asteroid by 2025, there has been little effort to initiate such a mission,” said the report by a panel of the distinguished National Academy of Sciences.

In another 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 report doesn’t blame the space agency; it faults President Barack Obama, Congress and the nation for not giving NASA better direction.

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, rocket-building is being outsourced 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 told The Associated Press.

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 heavy-duty rocket and crew capsule capable of taking astronauts into deep space.

White House spokesman Matt Lehrich said he had nothing to add beyond NASA’s comments.

Wednesday’s report came the same day astronaut Scott Kelly, brother-in-law to former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, talked about the difficulties of spending a U.S. record-breaking year in orbit aboard the space station starting in 2015. On Tuesday, just ahead of the report, NASA announced plans for a new Mars rover in 2020 in a sequel to the successful Curiosity mission.

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, who was not on the panel.

Obama told the space agency in 2010 to plan to send astronauts to an asteroid by 2025 as a training ground for an eventual Mars landing. But the 80-page panel report and its authors said there is little support for that idea within NASA and the international space community.

The agency hasn’t done much to determine an asteroid target, and its strategic plan avoids mention of an asteroid mission, the report said. Also, panel members said NASA hasn’t allocated much money for it.

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.”

———

Online:

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

NASA: www.nasa.gov

——— 

Seth Borenstein can be followed at http://twitter.com/borenbears

 

For more on this story and other local news, subscribe to The Valdosta Daily Times e-Edition, or our print edition

1
Text Only
National, International News
  • AP4507280123 copy.jpg Today in History for Monday, July 28, 2014
    Today is Monday, July 28, the 209th day of 2014. There are 156 days left in the year. 
     

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Tentative deal reached on VA reform

    The chairmen of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees have reached a tentative agreement on a plan to fix a veterans’ health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays.

    July 27, 2014

  • United States-Libya_Rich.jpg US evacuates embassy in Libya amid clashes

    The United States shuttered its embassy in Libya on Saturday and evacuated its diplomats to neighboring Tunisia under U.S. military escort as fighting intensified between rival militias. Secretary of State John Kerry said “free-wheeling militia violence” prompted the move.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP9607270692 copy.jpg Today in History for Sunday, July 27, 2014

    Today is Sunday, July 27, the 208th day of 2014. There are 157 days left in the year.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • No ticket for Shrek over loud musical, chief says

    A musical being performed in a New Hampshire park has drawn some noise complaints, but the deputy police chief says he’s “not giving Shrek a ticket.”

    July 26, 2014

  • Arizona Execution Dru_Rich copy.jpg Arizona’s McCain: Execution was torture

    U.S. Sen. John McCain says the execution of an Arizona inmate that lasted two hours was torture.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ukraine Plane_Rich copy.jpg US: Russia firing into Ukraine

    Russia is launching artillery attacks from its soil on Ukrainian troops and preparing to move heavier weaponry across the border, the U.S. and Ukraine charged Friday in what appeared to be an ominous escalation of the crisis.
    Russia accused Washington of lying and charged Ukraine with firing across the border on a Russian village. It also toughened its economic measures against Ukraine by banning dairy imports.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP7107260254 copy.jpg Today in History for Saturday, July 26, 2014

    Today is Saturday, July 26, the 207th day of 2014. There are 158 days left in the year.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Mideast Iraq_Rich copy.jpg Iraq elects new president amid attacks

    Iraqi lawmakers elected a veteran Kurdish politician on Thursday to replace long-serving Jalal Talabani as the country’s new president in the latest step toward forming a new government. But a series of attacks killed dozens of people and Islamic militants destroyed a Muslim shrine traditionally said to be the burial place of the Prophet Jonah, underscoring the overwhelming challenges facing the divided nation.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Hong Kong Shutdown_Rich copy.jpg Hong Kong firms on edge as blockade looms

    As activists vow to shut down Hong Kong’s financial district in protest at China’s attempt to hobble democratic elections in the city, businessman Bernard Chan is preparing for the worst.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

Top News
Poll

Do you agree with the millage rate increases?

Yes. We need to maintain services
No. Services should have been cut.
     View Results