Artist's rendering of an astronaut performing a tethering maneuver at an asteroid. The Space Exploration Vehicle (SEV) is close by, with the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) docked to a habitat in the background.
(Florida Today) -- NASA's human spaceflight program is destined to limp forward or even
fizzle out unless political leaders can finally agree on a long-term
plan for where and how humans should explore space, two policy experts
"What you're seeing in the
current debate over priorities really is the residual of 40 years of
failure to reach consensus on what the U.S. should be doing on space,
and particularly in human spaceflight," said John Logsdon, professor
emeritus at George Washington University.
currently in a very, very fragile situation, particularly as it regards
human spaceflight," added Scott Pace, a professor and director of the
same university's Space Policy Institute. "It is not at all inevitable
that human spaceflight will continue as we look in the years ahead."
a teleconference with reporters about the direction of U.S. space
policy, both described NASA as suffering from "drift" in direction.
and Senate committees have passed competing versions of NASA
authorization bills, with proposed funding for next year ranging from
about $16.8 billion to $18.1 billion.
lower House total factors in automatic budget cuts called
sequestration, while the higher Senate total assumes those cuts won't
would prevent NASA from pursuing a mission to capture an asteroid for
astronauts to visit in 2021, while the Senate only directs the agency to
take steps toward an eventual Mars mission.
key human spaceflight differences center on where exploration missions
should go, and whether NASA should help develop multiple commercial
systems for rides to the International Space Station or choose one.
"On the human spaceflight side, the sense of drift, or the sense of lack of consensus, still is fairly serious," Pace said.
advocates for international partnerships on missions to or near the
moon, rather than the proposed "one-off" missions to an asteroid or Mars
that offer few opportunities for collaboration anytime soon.
a "geopolitical" approach, he said, would align emerging nations'
interests with our own and provide a strategic rationale, not just that
of a space enthusiast.
Logsdon said the current stated goal of going to Mars "takes us in a
particular direction that's been there for half a century or more
without really much debate of whether it's the right direction."
criticized President Barack Obama for failing to invite international
leaders to work together to define a new future for the space program.
Obama administration tried to offer a new direction for NASA in 2010,
but bungled its rollout and failed to overcome congressional backlash,
resulting in unsatisfactory compromises, they said.
"What's missing is a sense of strategy, of strategic purpose for this organization," said Logsdon. "What should it be doing?"
no coherent long-term plan is formed and exploration by default centers
on the International Space Station, Pace said that when the station is
deorbited "there will be an end to U.S. human spaceflight, and an end to
a near-term government market for the commercial sectors."
given strong industrial and regional interests in the programs, Logsdon
said he anticipates "some form of limping through human spaceflight
effort that is more similar than different than what we've done for the
past four decades."