Leonard David, writing on December 31, 2012 in Space.com, suggests that a decision point is ahead for NASA in 2013. Will the space agency continue to pursue (or at least pretend to) President Obama’s plan to send American astronauts to an asteroid? Or will NASA and the administration follow the recommendation of the National Research Council and attempt to establish a consensus around a new plan, perhaps aimed back at the moon?
The findings of the NRC report that there is no support, either inside NASA or anywhere else, for the president’s asteroid scheme has space policy circles reeling. Keith Cowing, who blogs at NASA Watch, posts a number of links to media stories of alternate space explorations plans swirling about NASA that do not involve going to an asteroid. They involve everything from building a deep space station at an Earth/moon Lagrange point to actually diverting an asteroid and bringing it into lunar orbit for examination and possible mining.
Cowing understandably complains, “When it comes to having a coherent, consistent, strategic plan, NASA doesn't have one. Instead, it spins around in 10 directions at once - as if it has institutionalized Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Someone needs to hit the reset button.”
Of course there was someone who proposed to set that reset button. But the American people declined to elect Mitt Romney as president.
The dimensions of the train wreck that is the Obama space policy are impossible to exaggerate. Couple the lack of leadership and direction with the lack of funding (even if NASA avoids the fiscal cliff) – remarkable for an administration that has been so profligate for government programs it cares about – and then one can be forgiven for wondering if there will even be a space program as properly understood in the near term.
In his analysis of the year ahead in space, Jeff Foust quotes Marsha Smith of SpacePolicyOnline.com as suggesting that unless tight budgets are loosened, tensions between the space exploration program (i.e. Orion/Space Launch System) and the commercial crew program will continue to exacerbate. Whether it leads to a train wreck or just stretching out both programs is difficult to predict. Thus far there seems little inclination on the part of either the Obama administration or the Congress to address the problem.
Mark R. Whittington is the author of Children of Apollo and The Last Moonwalker. He has written on space subjects for a variety of periodicals, including The Houston Chronicle, The Washington Post, USA Today, the L.A. Times, and The Weekly Standard.