The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

December 5, 2012

Expert panel: NASA seems lost in space, needs goal

(Continued)

When Obama took office, he appointed an outside committee that said the moon plan wasn't properly funded and wasn't sustainable. The panel offered a list of several options, including an asteroid mission as a possible stepping stone to Mars. Obama chose that path.

Crippen said an asteroid mission just doesn't make sense technically or politically and may just be too tough.

"I hate to use the word credible, but people don't buy it," said academy panel member Marcia Smith, president of Space and Technology Policy Group. "They don't feel that the asteroid mission is the right one."

The reason people aren't buying it is that they don't see money budgeted for it and they don't see the choice of target, said panel chairman Albert Carnesale, former chancellor of the University of California at Los Angeles. Inside NASA, "people were wondering: What are we doing to actually accomplish this?" Carnesale said at a news conference.

Carnesale said he wouldn't use the word "adrift" to describe where NASA is, but three other panel members said it was an apt description. And the report said NASA's strategic plan "is vague and avoids stating any clear prioritization of the goals"

University of Chicago physicist Michael Turner, another panel member, said in an interview: "What we're trying to say if you read between the lines is, 'Yeah, they are adrift, but it took a village to get adrift because they don't set their agenda.'"

Syracuse University public policy professor W. Henry Lambright, who wasn't part of the study but has written about space policy, said Obama has not sold NASA, Congress and the country on his plan.

"I really think it's Obama's fault," Lambright said. NASA "is suffering from benign neglect."

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