December 6, 2012
National Consensus Needed To Better NASA’s Future Space Programs
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
The report also says there is a mismatch between the portfolio of programs and activities assigned to the space agency, and the budget allocated by Congress.
NASA is also being inhibited from efficiently managing its personnel and infrastructure due to legislative restrictions, according to the NRC.
The report suggests that the White House take the lead in forging a new consensus on NASA's future in order to closely align the agency's budget and objective, and remove restrictions that keep the space agency from performing efficient operations.
"A current stated interim goal of NASA's human spaceflight program is to visit an asteroid by 2025," said Albert Carnesale, who chaired the committee that wrote the report. "However, we've seen limited evidence that this has been widely accepted as a compelling destination by NASA's own work force, by the nation as a whole, or by the international community."
He said the lack of national consensus on NASA's visible human spaceflight goal along with budgetary uncertainty has undermined the space agency's ability to guide program planning and allocate funding.
NRC was not asked to offer views on what NASA's goals, objectives, and strategy should be, but was asked to recommend how these goals, objectives and strategies might be established better.
The report recommends establishing a national consensus on NASA's future with the executive branch taking the lead after technical consultations with potential international partners.
Strategic goals and objectives should not only be ambitious and focus on the long term, but should also be obtainable, according to the report.
The report says that in order to reduce discrepancy between the overall size of NASA's budget and its current portfolio, the White House, Congress and NASA could pursue four options. Option one, according to the report, is to institute an aggressive restructuring program to reduce infrastructure and personnel costs to help improve efficiency.
Another option given by the report is to engage in and commit for the long term to more cost-sharing partnerships with U.S. government agencies, private sector industries, and international partners.
The report also suggests that efficiency can be increased by increasing the size of NASA's budget, and reducing the size and scope of elements of NASA's current program portfolio in order to better adjust to the current budget profile.
NRC said that because future human spaceflight or large-scale Earth and space science projects will involve multiple nations, the U.S. should explore international approaches to projects. In order to do this, the report says that the U.S. must have a program that other countries want to participate in, and must be willing to give substantial responsibility to its partners.