Should NASA give up its dominant role in human spaceflight?

The space shuttle Endeavor blasted off yesterday, leaving only four more planned launches in the shuttle program. After that, the United States plans to rely on private contractors to ferry astronauts into space. Today’s Question: Should NASA give up its dominant role in human spaceflight?

  • Dmox

    There is no reason for this. Critics like to drone on about cutting the cost of putting payload into orbit, and I agree that NASA should always be working gon better ways to do their job safely, efficiently, & economically, however, effectively privatizing the space industry is not a good step for our national science & space programs. It will lead to *profit only* space programs & will quickly become outmoded & deficient to up and coming space programs from China, India, etc…

    Do not forget the contributions to our daily lives that the “costly” NASA space programs of the past 50 years have brought us. Cell phones, microchips, microprocessors, and numerous biological & medical advances. These were made for science, not for profit. Lord knows what important technology we’ll leave behind for lack of investment from private enterprise….

  • James

    Leadership… it all boils down to fair, honest, decisive, leadership. The spin offs from space exploration benefit mankind like no other industry can. NASA sent 12 brave men to walk on the face of the moon…The APOLLO program had good leaders that had the backing of the president.


  • Steverman

    I don’t think that we should. All the money that we’re putting into weapon systems is wasted because of how much more than the rest of the work we’re putting into them. I think we and our nation would be better served by doubling our efforts on getting into space. The money would better serve our national interests, and we would expand our scientific horizons and restore the middle class again. If all the nations that are currently expanding into space continues to do so, the human race would be better served then with all the wars foisted on us by the corporations and governments over the last generation.

  • Carl Helrich, Ph.D.

    Since a summer I spent as an ASEE/NASA Faculty Fellow at MSFC (Huntsville) I have been convinced that human spaceflight is not as effective scientifically as missions that require no human involvement. My understanding at this time is that science has essentially come to a standstill on the ISS, while our probes to Mars and the moons of jupiter seem to produce valuable data.

    One can always speak about expenses and cutting costs. And that is (probably) important. But NASA’s mission is science, it is not budget balancing.

  • bsimon

    No. NASA should be continuing their human spaceflight program. But, yes, cutting the expense is mandatory because we clearly don’t have the budget for such luxuries. Until the American people recognize the value of investing in science and technology collectively, it is difficult to justify the tax increases that are necessary to pay for things like human spaceflight.

  • Edmund W. Boyle

    Considering the treasure that was thrown away by the Bush administration on two illegal wars, ridiculous tax cuts when we had deficit budgets every year, private contractors everywhere, it is like a person with a rundown home, credit cards maxed out, a fancy car worth more than the home, who wants a yacht, hot tub, and a sauna.

    Whether NASA or private contractors do the job is irrelevent. We can’t afford it.

    Considering what the overpriced American colleges and universities are churning out today, real engineers are quite rare, unlike in the 50s and 60s. We would probably have to import them, just like we do everything else.

  • MER

    I think we need NASA to continue to push the envelope….maybe the time has come for it to partner with other nations (like the space station program) to share the costs – we lose some proprietary technology benefits perhaps – but we probably can’t foot the bill by ourselves anymore…

  • Terry Stone

    I think it is incredibly shorthsighted for our administration (whom I generally support) to give up on manned space flight. It is only governments — and not private companies or individuals — that have deep enough pockets to make the leading-edge commitments to this realm of science that will ultimately result in success. We need another Werner Von Braun with the ear of the President and Congress at the helm of NASA to ramrod through the projects that will advance manned space exploration. We are at the same place Europeans were in 1492 — in need of more land and resources. Our planet is dying, and we will have to build an ark in order to find other habitable places to live and work. If we abandon our manned program, we condemn ourselves to extinction or, perhaps worse, to a consistently abysmal quality of life and to the horrific diseases, starvation, and pandemics that come with overpopulation. The earth and its resources are finite, and we should have the option to reach elsewhere to fill those resource needs.

  • Jeff Walther

    This is not as simple of a question as it appears.

    Ultimately, I believe that the point behind all the automated probes and exploration is to enable mankind to expand off our single planet into the universe. We need a manned program if we are to learn how to do that.

    I believe that achieving the goals we’ve assigned to NASA is very important for mankind’s future. However, I also believe that NASA often does a poor job with those goals, and so the question arises: Is it worth pursuing important goals poorly?

    I worked at NASA in Space Shuttle Operations from ’84 – ’87. Even then, NASA was a bureaucratically ossified organization. Congress and the nature of public funding cycles have a lot to do with this. It’s not that the folks at NASA don’t want to do better.

    And make no mistake. There are parts of NASA which do fabulous work–magical work. But there are large, expensive swathes of NASA which can probably only be fixed by allowing them to whither off of the vine, pruning being politically impossible.

    Perhaps this privatization will allow some of that whithering. I hope it doesn’t tak e our capability in manned spaceflight with it.

    Jeff Walther

  • Bill Soper

    It is very important for NASA to continue space programs and scientific development. I work in the space industry from 1966 until my retirement in 1996 and participated in so many projects that became as beneficial to life here on earth as they where to space travel. NASA’s work promoted new jobs, new materials, advanced communications, surveillance for peace, pride of nation and self, and the list continues.

    As a country we continue to need all the positive contributions that continued space travel development can product. Commitment, integrity, and unitedness are the hidden rewards that will benefit us as much as space travel.

  • Dr. Ronald I. Miller

    While there is a place for commercial companies in space operations, the research and exploration activities in space will always need to be government funded and controlled. This is because the financial, scientific and physical (human life) risk factors are too great for the commercial market to bear. However, the key question is “what is the level of human exploration of space that the American public is willing to fund?” As the Augustine Commission pointed out, the human flight part of our space program has been under funded relative to its stated goals for many years. If we are going to send humans to explore the cosmos beyond Earth orbit, NASA needs a much larger annual budget.

    While I personally agree with this goal, and am willing to pay the taxes to support it, I do not see the same willingness in other taxpayers nation-wide. This lack of enthusiasm is, I fear, the result of a lack of understanding that space exploration is a vitial part of our survival strategy as a species. As we use up the resources of Earth (both in terms of natural resources for products and energy, and environmental resources like water and breathable air), we will have to reach out into space for what resources we can obtain there. This is but one part of a survival strategy that also must include conservation efforts on Earth, and new technology development for more efficient human life here. But again, NASA is a vital part of the development of new technology that is not yet commercially viable.

    So I believe NASA should continue to lead in the research and exploration portions of human space flight, but the country must give it the funds to do this properly. Whether the U.S. will do so remains to be seen.

  • Steven

    It seems clear to me that human space travel will never really take off (excuse the pun) until people find some commercial value in it. On the other hand, government should continue to be involved. In James Cameron’s movie Avatar, the RDA is an illustration of the dangers of privatization run amok. A real example from actual history is the British East India Company. We need some way to ensure that the humans who represent Earth to the rest of the galaxy (whatever is out there) are guided by moral principles, not merely the greed of shareholders.

  • Sarah Katz

    As previous commenters have pointed out, the question isn’t as simple as NASA giving up its dominant roll in spaceflight. In the short term, NASA is contracting out the low earth orbit shuttle service that has become so routine that the country rarely tunes into launches any more. It’s the perfect thing to outsource. Without having to budget for and run the Space Shuttle flights, NASA can in the long term focus on research and far range exploration, presumably with manned flights.

    So to answer the question, yes, I’m fine with NASA giving up its dominant roll in manned Low Earth Orbit spaceflight, as long as it maintains its dominant roll in manned space exploration, to Mars, the asteroid belt, and beyond.

  • Bill Leikam

    I think that NASA should continue to pioneer the frontiers of space exploration but give over the day to day work of furthering the human race’s steps into space such as the International Space Station to corporations.



  • Vincent Milot

    Nasa, General Dynamics, Raytheon, Boing, Martin Douglas, and other high tech. government contractors/agencies permit engineers and scientists to remain employed when private companies do poorly in private sector endeavors. This is a type of middle class socialism. I have no problem with this concept, but I think by admitting the need for this Keynsian intervention, we could move on to non-military support for this underemployed demographic. While the war solution has its advantages to economic downturn–it drives volatile youth into service rather than gangs, it can be downsized as private sector economy inproves, and it can, through the xenophobia it invariable generates, unify a nation–these latter advantages have become liabilities in the global economy. Nasa and military contracts are a drain to the economy and don’t promise the private sector crossover of tech. they once did. Not being such, they are a drain on public resources. We need more Mexicans, not fewer, to balance the cheap labor equation with the rest of the world, and an anti-foreign stance does not support this. The seeds of solution rest in the problem. The public are not supportive of resource protection wars abroad or cold war sponsored space play. Put these underemployed engineers into the field of renewable local energy resources. It was the government that subsidized highways and king oil. Let’s capitalize on American efficiency by supporting…well…efficiency.

  • Benjamin Bradley

    Sort answer: No, NASA should not give up its dominant role in manned space flight.

    Long answer: NASA must expand its manned space flight program beyond LEO (Low Earth Orbit) if the United States wishes to remain a (or in some people’s opinions, regain its status as a) leader in technology and innovation.

    Recently NASA’s manned space flight program has been wholly dedicated to the construction and operation of the ISS (International Space Station). This outpost is relatively close to Earth in what is known as Low Earth Orbit. The Space Shuttle is only capable of getting to LEO and is currently fulfilling its original purpose: to serve as a ‘space truck’ and a platform to build a space station or other large space structure. While LEO is a great place to be able to go to, I argue that humanity in general and the United States specifically must expand our reach beyond our own back porch. I would like to point out that much research into long term manned space flight has been done at the ISS, ranging from perfecting exercise routines to recycling urine. The most important things that we are learning from the ISS, in my opinion, is how to live in space and how to build in space. There is also very important research being done into micro-gravity chemical reactions, amongst other things, that can only be done in space.

    NASA’s Constellation program was never meant to be limited to LEO like the Shuttle is. The overall goal of the program was to explore the Moon and Mars. In the beginning of space exploration, no company had the resources or the stomach to begin exploring space. The government, however, did and that opened the floodgates for private sector investment in space related technologies (You can watch TV from space people). Similarly, I doubt that private companies will go beyond LEO without a blazed trail. NASA should be allowed to go forward and explore the solar system but eventually the robotic probes we have been using will not be sufficient. In order to fully explore something we need to actually go there. I am concerned that such a long gap in a manned space program will rob NASA of the experienced people who know firsthand how to explore.

    I worry that without a long term vision, tangible goals and adequate funding, the US space program will stagnate. It is important to continue to push forward while the private sector fills in the charted territory. Space exploration could turn to the aviation industry for inspiration. In the beginning, the government was the primary aviation power in the country. Once private companies saw that it could be done, airlines popped up. The government provided most of their business at first (via the US Postal Service) but eventually the private sector took over and turned air travel into a profitable enterprise. (While many airlines are not doing too well now, the industry as a whole can be profitable when managed properly ie Southwest and Fedex) This brief and overly simplified history of aviation shows that while companies are hesitant to leap into the wild blue yonder, they are more than happy to go in once the way has been established. Right now, private companies are pushing into LEO. If they find it to be profitable then it will turn into a significant part of our economy.

    I understand that budgets are tight and something has to go. I would argue that the national manned space program is too important an investment in our future to let go of. One stated goal of the Obama administration is to train more students in math and science. I recently graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics. I know for a fact that I would never have gone into that field were it not for NASA’s manned space program. If you want young people to put themselves through the rigorous training needed to become an engineer you need something to inspire them. Like many children, I grew up wanting to be an astronaut (I still do). I do not think this would have been the case if a country other than my own were the one sending people into space. The United States wants more scientists and engineers. I believe that cutting our manned space program runs counter to that goal.

    Manned space exploration is also part of what it is to be human. Sure, we can send robots to record and relay data back to us but we will never consider a place to have been ‘explored’ until a person has gone there. Part of the human condition is to constantly seek more information and to go places to learn the unlearned. Without the ability to go there, we will never fully understand space.

    Additionally, if we do not explore space and settle there, humanity is doomed to extinction. This world will not last forever. Currently our entire race exists on one planet and if something was to happen to this planet that would be the end of us. If we want to continue as a species we must expand into and beyond the solar system. This is a very far sighted goal that is certainly unobtainable with our current level of technology. If we are to develop the tools we will need to live elsewhere we cannot cut funding (or, for that matter, underfund) to the program with the goal of taking the first step of establishing bases on the moon and Mars.

    Now technology and far reaching goals are not enough to send people to space. We as a nation and as a world need to want this and be willing to pay for it. As things stand right now, people are not excited about space and haven’t been since Apollo. Perhaps NASA is not the organization to take us into the future. Perhaps the people of the United States, and thereby our government, are not interested in keeping our nation’s place at the top of the space exploration pecking order. That does not change my above statements of the need to learn and the need to expand.

    I sincerely hope that private launch services are able to provide access to LEO. As Robert A Heinlein once said: “Once you get to earth orbit, you’re halfway to anywhere in the solar system.” Perhaps a greater exploration effort can be made on the back of private industry service to LEO. I am still disappointed in and upset by the proposed cutting of Constellation. I feel that, should the cuts go through or underfunding continue (which I expect to happen), our government will be doing a disservice to the nation and the world. It wouldn’t be the first time and it wouldn’t be the last. I hope we can continue to explore in one form or another, either by a public or private effort, and sincerely hope to see a permanent base on the moon within my lifetime.

  • a guy

    NASA is not the same organization that went to the moon. Space exploration no longer captivates the country. Nothing captivates the country — our “leaders” cannot lead with focus beyond an 18 month horizon leaving us with a populace that has no drive other than to update their Facebook entries.

    That rant having been made, it does make more $en$e to send robotic probes — humans are very expensive freight. (Compare the cost of a seat on a plane vs a FedEx flat box!) If your goal is science then human space travel is a joke.

    The reason for human space exploration is hubris; as a country we have to decide, for very non-technical reasons, whether pioneering in space is important. We can’t decide anything without leaders who can lead, much less choose which non-essential priorities are to be implemented.

  • itzWicks

    Let me think for a second….. NO.

    For NASA (and essentially the US) to relinquish the lead role in human spaceflight is akin to the European countries who were masters of the seas in the middle of the last millenia, but burned their fleets in their respective harbors at the dawn of the New World voyages.

    So much of our modern tech are spinoffs from human spaceflight pursuits. To abandon it now would be worse than foolhardy and short-sighted. It is not a matter of if, but WHEN humans will return to the moon and stay. Speaking for myself, I would rather those initial souls be American in origin.

    It is my personal dream to see our Earth with my own eyes from above before I die. While current trends indicate it will likely not happen, perhaps my grandkids might get that honor. In the meantime, here is hoping that the private sector can boost efforts in making the final frontier much more affordable and accessible to the next generation of explorers and adventurers.

  • Ben Chorn

    To be honest, it is still a dream of mine to somehow be able to be involved in a manned mission to Mars. With the way things are going it would be easier for me to obtain my goal by moving to India.

    The US has lost too much on a leading scientific front…. how we will claim it back is going to take years and years.

  • http://SpaceLaunchInfo.Com/faq.html Ozzie Osband

    Should NASA give up its dominant role in human spaceflight?

    Quick answer: NASA should, America shouldn’t.

    With previous modes of transportation, there was certain cargo that could pay the frieght as a nacent industry found it’s legs. Or it’s Wheels. Or it’s Wings. The Pony Express, the Railroads, and the Airlines depended on Mail Contracts to provide a funding source for the entrepreneurial spirit to get new transportation industries under way.

    Space transportation started with a different National Interest than the others. National Defence, in the form of ballistic missles. Then space turned to National Pride as we turned our swords (missles) into plowshares (spaceships) to send men to the Moon.

    Now it’s simply exploration, since we can’t count on anything out there to be worth the great expense to travel to the moon, Mars and beyond. But the question is, does NASA have to do it?

    NASA doesn’t do it now. They get the Agency’s name plastered on all the rockets, but it’s the Contractor Community, the companies that actually bend metal, and build the rockets that hurl men and material into Space. NASA “manages” the program, but the work is done by contractors. The thing is, the contractors need those Mail contracts, or an equivilent, to be able to make a profit doing it, or their shareholders won’t let them do it.

    We may have to make a Circus out of Space to get The Public to pay for it out of their own pockets, rather than going via The Government to get into space. The Star Wars and Star Trek fans are the ones saying, “It’s the 21st Century. Where’s my Jet Pack”. Some of them are willing to pay for one.

    A company called SpaceX actually has a test rocket on the launch schedule at Cape Canaveral this year. I’ll be watching them with great enthusiasm. Most of the money backing them is coming from NASA, but they get to put their own logo on the ship. They’ll carry cargo and passengers to the International Space Station for NASA. And maybe they’ll even get a Mail Contract.

  • Rick Fleeter

    The word leadership implies there is some place we would be led to. I have yet to figure out the point of human spaceflight, which may have been a good idea 50 years ago when computers were bigger than the people who replaced them, and when political imperatives made putting a human on the moon effective. There is no leadership in human space flight to have nor to give up since it leads no where. Simple.

  • Larry Roth

    Yes and no.

    By that I mean NASA should no longer be the exclusive gatekeeper when it comes to sending people into space from America. The Russians have demonstrated there is a market for space tourism – which also has involved some commercial work as well.

    Encouraging private contractors to develop technology to enable manned space flight is long overdue in my opinion. Once the technology is ready and proven, it will open a path for further human ventures into space not tied to NASA programs or uncertain government funding. At some point – assuming we don’t crash the economy or human civilization too badly – the process will become self-supporting and self-justifying.

    The airlines in the early years relied on mail contracts to make money while flying passengers. That support kept the industry going long enough for the DC-3 to arrive on the scene – and the airlines finally had a plane that could make money flying passengers whether or not it was also carrying mail.

    The transcontinental railroad got started while the Civil War was being waged. It was a government project, but it sparked the building of a rail network that eventually tied the whole country together.

    NASA has yet to enable human space travel to stand on its own, but this might just be the first step at last. The Russians are already going down that road; can the Chinese be far behind?

    NASA’s role in the future should be to do good science, develop new technologies, expand our knowledge of the universe and help us maintain a technological edge over the rest of the world. Some of that will need humans in space. Think how much more the Martian rovers could have accomplished by now if we had human controllers in orbit around Mars, able to direct them in real time. How humans get there need not be NASA’s sole responsibility as long as someone does it.

    If we can just make getting to Earth orbit routine, then the whole solar system is not that much harder to get to. It’s that first step that’s the problem. New launch technologies, new orbital resources like transfer vehicles (space tugs) and orbital refueling would make a huge difference. NASA can play a role in developing what’s needed to make that happen – and then let others build on that R&D.

    We know enough now to make getting humans to earth orbit routine; we need to take the constraints off the space program that have kept it from happening. So long as NASA has been the sole entry point to space for humans from America, it’s also been a choke point. NASA can go back to being a pathfinder again now that the trail has been blazed.

  • D. Edward Clark

    I don’t think NASA should just give it up, perhaps they could find a way to join forces with private agencies if possible.

    We need to continue to pursue space exploration, not just for science and knowledge, but because we need to, we cannot isolate ourselves here forever and fade into history, forgotten. We need to establish ourselves out there. Could be the salvation to the human race one day.

    Yeah, that sounds a little grandiose and better suited for Syfy Channel, but it could very well be true someday.

  • George Anderson

    Q: Should NASA give up its dominant role in human spaceflight?

    A: Not so fast. Several questions appear bundled together, each distinct and challenging. These questions involve issues of national pride/patriotism, political leadership (congressional and presidential), military/industrial preparedness, budget, and last-but-not-least science.

    Yearning to know more about our solar system, the niche of space/time we inhabit within an extravagant/violent universe, is reckoned among the heights of human virtue. Yet the needs of science may be out of balance with other motivating factors (above). Look how the US got to the moon “first” in 1969. Although science/technology benefited immensely, the Cold War is what fueled the rockets sending men (with flag) to the moon.

    Balance may be a key for setting NASA’s program/goals: “nothing in excess.” Speaking inclusively, operating with political transparency, selecting project goals with program costs projected honestly, listening to a broad range of scientists who are independent/unrelated to NASA’s programs/contractors: these are important criteria for moving ahead.

    Compared with the diverse beauty of this earth, our solar system possesses some of the most dubious real estate imaginable. Unacquainted with human happiness, the moon or mars (or other planets) harbor stingy resources, toxic, alien to the support of life’s required bio-systems. The planets are sterile fossils to earth, a habitat of rare occurrence, far as any eye can see.

    For instance, if we were to gain a base on mars, and — in the process —further US domination, what then? Another excuse for war? There are abundant/abiding needs on earth requiring a sense of balance, proportional living, avoiding excess. Human spaceflight (particularly beyond the moon) is out of balance because it is (for me) weighted with political ambition.

    Scientific projects are accomplished today with instruments, cameras and the like. They allow humans to work remotely in ways scientists do best: placing data in meaningful context, creating plans for a new experiment, etc. It is time to stop politicians from feathering their nests (by their siding with utopian schemes) and continue the dialogue that truth and beauty began in the birth of science, asking questions of nature, some 2.4 millennia ago.

  • James Waggoner

    If we limit the discussion to scientific advances in our knowledge of the world around us, I believe that the manned spacecraft program is a profound waste of resources. Instrumented, automated scientific probes should provide us the best information at the least cost. If one considers the major advances in technology in the past century, such as the transistor or the laser, it is clear that these advances grew out of basic scientific research, not from an engineering program.

  • Khatti

    My answer would be “for the time being,” except for one thing: at some point in the future (and no one knows when), we’re going to have to deal with a rather large asteroid, hitting the planet. Actually I should say: “Hitting the planet unless we do someting about it!” If we do nothing else we should design a manned spacecraft to deal with this evenuality. We would want this craft to have a human crew because we may have to be creative when we deal with this rock. As was true during the Cold War, the prospect of wide-spread death makes things less expensive!

  • Uli Knirsch

    I assume with “human spaceflight” you mean “manned spaceflight”. Sorry, I hope that’s not too sexist. However, let’s remember that humans also build remote controlled probes that do excellent work at a very reasonable cost.

    Just maintaining the ISS will be quite a challenge. Going to the moon or even beyond with manned (inhabited) missions seems far beyond our financial capabilities. It makes sense to me to postpone these projects.

    This leaves the question whether NASA needs to develop spaceships to deliver astronauts to the ISS. There is a theory that industry would do that. I doubt they see a business case in it though.

    However, the shuttle was hastily cancelled and a successor is nowhere in sight. Thus, for a number of years, US astronauts will be forced to fly with the Russians.

    Why should the US (NASA) be in a rush to develop a traditional expendible rocket? Just to reduce the time one is dependent on the Russians? The Russians are dependent on the US in enough respects to be pretty reliable.

    I think NASA should focus more on unmanned missions – and eventually develop a next generation launcher for near-Earth missions.

  • Chad Johnson

    We can use NASA as a example of how to perform and function in a new government mentality. Everyone is critical on NASA spending, is is worth it? Lets make an example.

    Clean defined goals with transparency of dollars spent and contracts given.

    On such a non-confrontational issue as compared to most nationwide issues, this would be a great mechanism to explore and empower transparency in government spending.

    Achievements with this method

    1) control cost

    2) inform and motivate the public

    3) competitive visibility

    4) explore new concepts

    5) inspiration

  • Raul Armas

    Should NASA give up its dominant role in human space flight?

    Yes, but I would also suggest that rather than totally surrendering to a “robotic-type” space exploration mentality, it would be far wiser if the U.S. were to begin moving toward the formation of a mix of multi-national human and robotic space flight program(s) that would maximize the use of limited human, financial and material resources.

    ‘With the establishment of agreements to share the eventual technological innovations needed for deep-space flight the U.S. would be ensuring for future generations everywhere the continuous process of learning,integration,evolution and growth necessary for sustaining healthy, human-oriented economies.

  • Russ Howard

    NASA should not give up its “dominant role in human spaceflight.” However, the implication in your question is that the new budget and reorganization of NASA will have that effect. In my opinion, it is just the reverse.

    The Constellation program deliberately turned its back on new technology development for manned spaceflight by reaching back to Apollo-age designs–a cramped capsule with no maneuverability, water landings, etc. The system would have been too expensive to fly much. We had already given up our future, despite words to the effect of “we are going to the Moon!”.

    The new budget, in contrast, adds funding overall but in particular to the technology development we need to remain dominant in human spaceflight, such as closed-loop life support, in-space assembly and propellant depots. We are finally on a path to develop an orbital infrastructure that can support a huge range of missions to the Moon or elsewhere. And probably end up there sooner and cheaper (and most important–more sustainably) than Constellation would have. This is what NASA should have been doing for the last forty years. Think where we would be now if that had been the case…

    Commercial transport of crew to LEO will in itself inject some innovation and new US players into the game. Much better than having a NASA central design bureau reinvent the wheel over and over at great expense.

  • Jim Hayes

    Important issue, wrong question. The first question is “Can NASA be saved from politics and corporations?”

    In the early days, NASA was focused on a technical project with a political goal, beat the Russians to the moon. Post lunar landings, it became SkyLab and exploration, with good results again. Somewhere along the way, it became politicized, probably beginning with Lyndon Johnson sending NASA HQ to Houston, bringing tons of $$ to his home state of Texas. Now NASA has become a political football with each administration changing its focus based on politics and lobbying.

    Can NASA be saved? Not unless we have a major change in management. NASA needs an independent Board of Directors comprised of scientists, techs, companies, pols and citizens to debate publicly the role of NASA. We need to stop making decisions based on port-barrel politics and lobbying and make them based on how NASA can benefit the country, science, citizens and the world.

    Should NASA give up its dominant role in human spaceflight? NO! Commercial interests will be highly unlikely to succeed (from a reliability and profitability standpoint) at this role in the long term, so the government will end up bailing them out (too big to fail?).

  • Not a lover of NASA

    Not only should NASA stopped manned space travel, but it should be dismantled entirely.

    As the first commenter asks, “Can NASA be saved from politics and corporations?” I answer, No, it cannot. I notice in the comment that this is a dig and privatization. He has the right diagnosis: the wedding of government/politics and corporatism, but the wrong cure. The real cure is to get the government out of science and make scientists fully self-fund so that corporations will be unable to milk the system. It’s the government that makes it possible for faux-entrepreneurs to make ungodly profits at taxpayers’ expense.

    Government funding has caused more damage to science than anything else in modern history. We used to worry about the separation of Church and State. We should really be more concerned with the separation of Science and State. Only research that the government wants and approves of will get funded while other research languishes. This is not intellectually free or honest. Moreover, it is government funding–the promise of endless money lowing into the states of the most powerful politicians–that has caused the cost of science research to explode.

    Easy money = fiscal irresponsibility and dependency. What we have now is an entire industry of scientism that is paid for by the government to study what the government wants it to study, to get the results the government wants. And what results does the government want? Those results that a) allow the corporations that paid for their elections to profit handsomely, and b) allow the government to extend its power and control deeper into our private lives.

    And if you deviate from the current scientific-orthodoxy? With apologies to Monty Python’s Flying Circus: “You cannot escape the Science Inquisition!”

  • Jack

    NASA. I grew up watching all the space flights. We lived in the neighborhood. From Redstone to Apollo we saw them all.

    Then I worked at Kennedy Space Center for awhile (9 years all told) on the Shuttle Program. That is, up until the Challenger accident. Got laid off with 14,500+ coworkers.

    NASA lost its vision decades ago. Now it’s a hangout for military, defense and intelligence retirees. Their main goal is double/tripple dipping (getting a retirement from their first agency and at least one more from another).

    I saw first hand a lot of the misguided, misspent, misadventures — too many to count. NASA should get out of the way and let others innovate. Now they’re just a bloated bureaucracy without a mission other than hanging onto federal dollars.

  • Amy E. Page