It must be hard, trying to run NASA. The glory days of the Apollo program are well and truly gone, and ever since then the agency has seemed to be in decline. The ISS has become an expensive boondoggle, and to quote Michael Lonsdale as Hugo Drax: "To lose one shuttle is a misfortune , to lose two seems more like carelessness." Despite pronouncements by the President over his view of where NASA ought to be headed – Mars, in case you hadn't heard – that seems about as achievable as his plans on social security reform.
Although manned space exploration is the greatest PR draw, NASA's recent unmanned missions, notably the Mars Rovers, have been great successes, and cheap to boot. But future projects are now in danger, thanks to the culture of entitlement and pork barrel politics that is endemic to Capitol Hill. Congressional earmarks now mean that NASA, on top of its core mission, has to fund:
Construction or renovation of dozens of museums, planetariums and science labs for colleges.Computers, classrooms and lab space for colleges and schools across the U.S.A website and laboratory for the Gulf of Maine Aquarium.A sprawling headquarters building for a non-profit research group
in West Virginia created by U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan. The Democrat is
now subject of a broader congressional ethics probe.
NASA's US$16 billion budget has not been increased to reflect the $3
billion-worth of pet projects it has been ordered to carry out since
2001. As a result, future plans such the Shuttle replacement,
education initiatives, and future space probes are all now in doubt.
"I am deeply concerned that the growth of these unrequested
congressional directions is eroding NASA's ability to carry out its
mission of space exploration and peer-reviewed scientific discovery,"
NASA Administrator Mike Griffin wrote this year in a letter the House
Science Committee. The cost, he went on to say, "could conflict with
NASA's ability to strive to deliver the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV)
by the earliest possible date following the 2010 retirement of the
One wonders how many more pork barrels can fit into that giant hanger
on Cape Canaveral, and just how much longer NASA can stay in the space