The Obama administration spent considerable effort and political capital during its first term to steer NASA in a new direction. One major change was canceling the space agency's earlier plan to return to the moon and replacing it with the goal of landing humans on an asteroid by 2025. But the political fights over that shift may continue into the administration's second term, if a report released today by the National Research Council of the U.S. National Academies is any indication.
The report evaluating NASA's strategic direction was commissioned by the space agency at Congress's urging. Its main message is that the lack of "a national consensus on strategic goals and objectives" has set NASA adrift and is preventing the agency from forging a clear path ahead. (If that sounds tautological, it's because it is.)
"A current stated interim goal of NASA's human spaceflight program is to visit an asteroid by 2025," said Albert Carnesale, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who chaired the committee that authored 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. The lack of national consensus on NASA's most publicly visible human spaceflight goal along with budget uncertainty has undermined the agency's ability to guide program planning and allocate funding."