Visions Of A Better NASA

Credit: Office of Rep. Frank Wolf

If you were able to go back in time and ask Americans during the Mercury, Gemini, or Apollo era what the goal of the nation’s space program was, the answer would be far clearer than that one would receive from the present-day. So while Americans proudly admired the Space Shuttle Discovery as it flew over the Washington, D.C. area, lost on them was the stark fact that, for the first time since Americans launched John Glenn, the United States has neither the means to send its astronauts into space nor a space policy to explore beyond earth.That is, as Representative Frank Wolf points out in his letter to the National Academies’ Space Studies Board, because “[w]hile there is strong congressional support for American astronauts to return to the Moon, and eventually travel to Mars, the Administration still refuses to articulate a clear mission for NASA’s exploration program“. And though the Congressman, who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee with oversight for NASA, believes that NASA has reached new low’s during the current Administration, he notes, and references a chart, that this has been a problem for NASA over the last few decades.

Rep. Wolf asks the Board to consider three points:

  • Were NASA being formed today, how would it be structured and what would be its priority programs?
  • Like the FBI Director, should a NASA Administrator serve a 10-year term as a shield from White House pressure and to “…improve cohesiveness over multiple administrations“?
  • Concurrent submission by NASA of its budget to both Congress and the Office of Management and Budget, as well as an outside Board of Directors for the Agency?

In his letter, House Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf implores the Space Studies Board, which is meeting this week to review NASA’s strategic direction, as established in NASA’s fiscal year 2012 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill, to be “…bold and unreserved” and “bold, thought provoking, and inspired” in its assessment and recommendations, as its report will help inform Congress in next year’s deliberations over NASA’s authorization.

Rep. Wolf closes his letter with a handwritten note stating, “Thank you. This is important“.


  1. It reminds me of something one of the mission control people said to the press during the Apollo 13 mission. The press felt the situation was hopeless and attempted to make it appear that all hope was lost for the crew, but the gentleman said, “Now that’s not what we said. We said, ‘We’re working on it.'”

    The funny thing was that this person was as convinced as everyone else that this was likely to be the worst disaster in the history of manned spaceflight if Apollo 13 could not be recovered. So, while I prefer to remain neutral on any political issues and will continue to do so, I don’t think it’s fair to say that NASA does not intend to send men into space again or that the fact that there is a temporary period in which manned missions have been put on hold to mean anything less then the same-we’re working on it. It’s distinctly possible that I am looking at this the wrong way, but seems to me that now the necessary focus on going above and beyond has been restored from previous relentless efforts to go no further then Earth orbit. Now we’ve set our sights higher then the moon.

  2. Another thought comes to mind to since I’m stuck in Apollo 13 mode. It was something the Flight Director said just prior to splash down and immediately after the other gentleman stated the words about the 3 to one potential for the worst disaster in NASA history. The Flight Director looked up and said, “With all due respect sir, I believe this will be our finest hour.” I imagine that is what people will be thinking when the first astronaut sets foot on a nearby asteroid or perhaps even Mars.

  3. I think that the US will have people in space within a few years. I hope one of the commercial carriers will come through for us. I am really hoping for Dreamchaser since it will re-establish the preeminence of reusable fly back vehicles, though Dragon might be a better bet. Of course there is always Orion which ought to be carrying a crew within 10 years.

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