The 2004 Vision for Space Exploration had technology, robotics and a shuttle replacement. Craig Steidle created an Exploration Directorate with all three, plus competition among NASA centers, which many worried meant future reductions in force.
Mike Griffin led NASA through the Exploration Systems Architecture Study, Hurricane Katrina and 10 strong centers, to an implementation with little technology, little robotics and a focused shuttle replacement.
Now we are moving to a plan with more technology, more robotics and a vague plan for shuttle replacement [“Obama’s ‘Game-changing’ NASA Plan Folds Constellation, Bets Commercial,” Feb. 8, page 1].
One lesson from this might be that NASA is underfunded and we must pick a subset of the Vision for Space Exploration’s desires. Another lesson might be that the life cycle of a Vision is significantly longer than the Washington life cycle. Another lesson might be that without many NASA jobs in key districts, the space program will founder from a lack of support.
My key takeaway is this: Space advocacy is a small community, and we do ourselves a disservice with infighting and the resulting direction changes. We need strong leadership that combines excellent technical credentials with the ability to create political consensus within the space community.
If we as a space community continue to fight amongst ourselves and flounder in the public’s eye, we might just wind up with nothing. Partisan advocates in this intramural battle who think America will never give up space leadership should read the histories of Big Steel, Big Auto and Big Manufacturing while considering the possible futures.
President, Space Connections Inc.