By Seth Borenstein
WASHINGTON (AP) – 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.
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.1 2 next >>