Sometimes, the choice of what to explore has been sensationalistic, preferring to pursue exciting new frontiers instead of areas of space where collecting more data would allow us to make useful determinations. This is more of an administrative issue than a scientific issue. It has more to do with the suits on Capitol Hill than the engineers in Florida.
V. Future of NASA
A. What the new focus/goals should be
As with every government agency, NASA is plagued by a lack of accountability on the administrative side of things. However, it is important to remember that NASA was not established for administrative feats. NASA was established to explore the Universe, which it has continued to do even in its worst hours. Even when it is not delivering spectacles for the public to awe at, it is accumulating a steady stream of information and the capacity to make sense of all the phenomena in the universe. NASA is still achieving the important scientific advances that enrich our understanding of the universe, and this is exactly as it should be.
B. President Obama's plan & budget for NASA
With a strong president in office, NASA's leadership fortunes might have finally changed for the better. President Obama, like President Kennedy before him, has laid out a clear vision for the space program. Unlike Kennedy, he actually wants to pull back on space exploration, at least the unnecessary trips, allocating those sources to a retooling of NASA and a re-devotion to R&D.
President Obama's energy has reinvigorated NASA. Obama is putting a focus on new technologies, such as heavy-lift rockets, which are more powerful and more cost-effective than the current devices in use. The most promising part of the plan, however, is President's offer to involve private firms in space exploration, through activities such as transport of people and cargo to larger spacecraft. This increased involvement of the private sector will bring NASA new ideas, new initiatives, new expertise, and new sources of funding. These benefits would help resolve the budget problems and the lack of new technology.
Another source of financial assistance would be international partnerships. Cold War has been over for almost two decades and the U.S. And Russia have collaborated on a number of huge space projects. However, countries such as Canada, Japan, and China can also help the U.S. share the costs of huge space expeditions. We are finally reaching a point in space technology where the U.S. will no longer have to foot the bill for a service that necessarily benefits all of mankind.
The International Space Station is a start, but it should definitely not be the end of these international partnerships.
The problems that have plagued NASA are problems that are common to all bureaucracies: lack of communication within the organization and lack of accountability to people outside of the organization. The solutions proposed by President Obama would shake things up at NASA by involving the private sector for new ideas and business models. Building international partnerships gets other countries to share the costs of space exploration, easing the much-publicized financial difficulties at NASA. This structure will allow NASA to lean on new partners while continuing to pursue its original mission.
1) NASA Website, (http://www.nasa.gov/)
2) "A brief history of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration" by the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission ()
3) New York Times ()
5) Financial Times (http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/d911bd8a-322d-11df-b4e2-00144feabdc0.html)
6) John. F. Kennedy, Rice Moon Speech (http://www.nasa.gov/vision/space/features/jfk_speech.html>)