By Seth Borenstein
NASA is adrift without a coherent vision for where it should be going, an independent panel of space, science and engineering experts says.
But 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, the report said NASA is doing little to further the stated goal of the White House to send astronauts to a nearby 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 space 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.
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 say 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.
Crippen said an asteroid mission just doesn't make sense, technically or politically.
"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."
NASA chief spokesman David Weaver said in an emailed statement that the agency has clear and challenging goals.