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Space Update: Has NASA Lost its Bearings or its Marbles?

Posted on January 5, 2013

NASA through the latter part of the 20th century developed two programs, one manned, the other robotic. The former initially was driven by a political agenda in a race with the Soviet Union to get a human to the Moon and back. The latter was dedicated to building a space-based Earth support infrastructure and doing pure science in the form of discovery and exploration of the Solar System.

After the successful landings on the Moon NASA went on to develop the Space Shuttle, a space truck that became the equivalent of a gas guzzler eating up much of the organization’s annual budget. NASA’s old rivalry with the Soviets and its successor Russia’s Roscosmos, both beset by severe budget cuts, by necessity turned into a collective venture focused on building a permanent orbiting space station, the International Space Station (ISS) that orbits the Earth today. Deep Space human missions that were envisioned by both countries in the latter part of the 20th century ended up on the back burner with the entire program focused on activities in support of the ISS.

Other countries soon joined the partnership making their contributions to the ISS and its completion. It remains the principal human space destination, that is, until recently when China established its own human space flight program and announced its objective to duplicate what the United States and Russia have done in low-Earth orbit. China also has announced its plans to send their own human missions to the Moon. What China is doing is not original but it at least has an objective for its human space program.

That really cannot be said about NASA which seems to have lost its way with human space flight and is feeling cash constrained to the point that it is cutting back on essential space infastructure missions. The same could be said about Roscosmos. There seems to be no firm direction and funding driving NASA beyond the ISS. There certainly is a lot of talk about ideas for human space flight but these missions go beyond the end date of the current administration and could be rewritten by the next President, and the next after that, who may have entirely different priorities. And that’s the problem in a nut shell. NASA’s direction remains politically driven subject to a dysfunctional budgetary process and the American debt “crisis.”

Read more: Space Update: Has NASA Lost its Bearings or its Marbles? | World Future Society.

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