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NASA decides not to decide on future space exploration

Orion orbiting the moon
Orion orbiting the moon

That NASA’s space exploration program is beset by a lack of leadership, direction, and especially funding has been known for quite some time. According to a February 25, 2014 story in the suspicion has arisen that some of this is by deliberate design.

“Concerns have again been raised about NASA’s shaky exploration roadmap, with the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) claiming the Agency has elected to go down the ‘indecision-is-the-key-to-flexibility’ path. Although only two missions have been manifested, the panel cited concerns about launching a crew into deep space on what would be the debut of Orion’s life support system.”

Besides the concern of a stress test of the new life support system, called environmental control and life support system (ECLSS) being a feature of the first piloted deep space mission, the concern has arisen about what exactly that mission is going to be.

Officially the first piloted mission of the Orion space craft involves its launch on a heavy lift Space Launch System on a voyage to visit a small asteroid that had previously been placed in orbit around the moon. But now some in Congress and in the aerospace industry are looking at a more ambitious flight, involving a flyby of Mars and perhaps Venus.

The problem is that two of the conditions plaguing NASA, lack of direction and lack of leadership, are being caused by the third, lack of funding. NASA is creating two elements of a deep space exploration, the Orion spacecraft and the SLS. But it is not being provided enough money to actually use this hardware to its full potential. Thus NASA’s leadership had decided not to have a firm direction. No one knows when or if there will be adequate funding to send people to an asteroid, the moon, or Mars. No one in the current administration or in Congress seems disposed to change their situation.

In short, NASA’s space exploration program is adrift, by circumstances and deliberate design.

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