December 06, 2012
Credit: Credit: NASA
NASA needs a revamp of its strategic plan that follows from a new national consensus on what the agency’s primary mission should be, and what resources it needs to achieve it, according to new reports from the Space Foundation and the National Research Council (NRC).
NASA’s 2011 strategic plan is no longer viable, according to the Space Foundation’s report, which takes a long, hard look at NASA’s role more than five decades after its creation. Principal author G. Ryan Faith notes that the 2011 plan doesn’t even mention the word “space” in its vision and mission statements. It is time, the Foundation says, to find a job for NASA and stick to it. And the job for a “healthy national civil space enterprise,” the report says, is pioneering.
“The Space Foundation defines ‘pioneering’ as: 1) being among those who first enter a region to open it for use and development by others; and 2) being one of a group that builds and prepares infrastructure precursors, in advance of others,” the report states right up front.
The NRC, in its own assessment of NASA’s strategic vision, says there is “little evidence” that the agency’s current human spaceflight goal of visiting an asteroid by 2025 “has been widely accepted as a compelling destination by NASA’s own workforce, by the nation as a whole, or by the international community.
“There is no national consensus on strategic goals and objectives for NASA,” says the NRC’s report, released this week. “Absent such a consensus, NASA cannot reasonably be expected to develop enduring strategic priorities for the purpose of resource allocation and planning.”
The Foundation argues that NASA needs to drop tasks and infrastructure that don’t support a “pioneering doctrine” of providing access to new regions, exploring them, beginning to utilize them, and turning them over to another government or private organization for more routine operations. Faith and his colleagues have plenty of suggestions for how to go about that, starting with a rewrite of the Space Act that created NASA, which sets as the agency’s first priority “expansion of the human sphere of influence throughout the Solar System.”
Drawing on military precedent like the Navy’s nuclear propulsion organization and the National Defense Sealift Fund, the Colorado Springs-based foundation’s report urges a fixed five-year term, with an option to renew, for the NASA administrator, and a revolving fund to pay for the program he or she develops. The administrator would get to pick a deputy, but remaining in the office would depend on staying within budgets outlined in 10- and 30-year long-term plans.
Faith interviewed more than 100 people in preparing his report, and concluded that “there is something deep at NASA’s core that needs to be fixed.”
“Whatever afflicts the space program is deeply entrenched and will not be easily changed by issuing a few recommendations without significant follow through from NASA, Congress and the administration,” the report states, noting that President Bill Clinton was able to double the budgets for the National Institutes of Health to more than $30 billion a year in fiscal 2010 money.