The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

December 5, 2012

Expert panel: NASA seems lost in space, needs goal

— WASHINGTON (AP) — NASA is adrift without a coherent vision for where it should be going, an independent panel of space, science and engineering experts said in a stinging report issued Wednesday.

The report by the National Academy of Sciences doesn't blame the space agency; it faults the president, Congress and the nation for not giving NASA clear direction. At the same time, it said NASA is doing little to further the White House's goal of sending astronauts to an asteroid.

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 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 said in an emailed statement that the agency has clear and challenging goals. He listed several projects, including continued use of the International Space Station and efforts to develop a heavy-lift rocket and crew capsule capable of taking astronauts into deep space.

President Barack Obama in 2010 told the space agency to plan to send astronauts to an asteroid by 2025 as a training ground for an eventual Mars landing.

But the 80-page report from the national academy and its authors said that there is little support for that idea within NASA and the international space community. Also, NASA hasn't allocated much money for it. Nor has it done much to locate an asteroid target. The agency's vague strategic plan avoids mention of an asteroid mission.

After the 2003 space 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.

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