NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, in his op-ed “NASA Recharting its Path to Mars” [Commentary, Feb. 20, page 17], says that one of his greatest joys is speaking to students and young people about the inspiration of space exploration. But surely he and the Obama administration must know the general perception in the country is that NASA is scaling back on American space exploration. Citing current missions formulated nearly a decade ago does not overcome looking ahead to the 2020s with little to cite about American space achievement — and a generation much less inspired by it.

The human program is now without goals, devoted only to building a rocket that has no mission and almost certainly will go nowhere. The robotic program has been denuded of its flagships — none to the outer planets, ending the era created by Voyager, Galileo and Cassini, and Mars exploration scaled back to smaller missions without surface exploration or life search goals. The international cooperation started on both these missions is abrogated as the U.S. focuses inward.

This is not NASA’s fault. It is the fault of four senators imposing an unneeded, very expensive and premature rocket on the agency, and the rest of Congress and the administration (which initially opposed it) acquiescing. The Space Launch System (SLS) is not inspiring but a jobs program benefiting a couple of states and contractors. If allowed to proceed, it will become NASA’s albatross, potentially blocking space exploration for decades.

Mr. Bolden and John Grunsfeld, the new associate administrator for science, have to make lemonade from the lemons given to them. They need our help — but they do not need a new and expensive rocket.


Louis Friedman

Executive Director Emeritus,

The Planetary Society

Pasadena , Calif.

Louis Friedman is the co-founder and Executive Director Emeritus of The Planetary Society. Prior to that he was Manager of Advanced Programs and the post-Viking Mars Program at JPL.