A report this month from the National Research Council (NRC) has called NASA’s overall trajectory into question. It pointed out the national disagreement over the U.S. space agency’s goals and objectives, a disparity detrimental to the organization’s planning and budgeting efforts.
The 12-person blue-ribbon study group observed that the White House should take the lead in forging "a new consensus" on NASA's future in order to more closely align the agency’s budget and objectives and remove restrictions impeding NASA's efficient operations.
For one, the NRC study team took aim at a lofty directive to NASA by President Barack Obama when he spoke at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in April 2010:
"Early in the next decade, a set of crewed flights will test and prove the systems required for exploration beyond low-Earth orbit. And by 2025, we expect new spacecraft designed for long journeys to allow us to begin the first-ever crewed missions beyond the moon into deep space. So we’ll start…we’ll start by sending astronauts to an asteroid for the first time in history. By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow. And I expect to be around to see it." [How NASA Will Explore Asteroids (Gallery)]
While the NRC study team did not undertake a technical assessment of the feasibility of an asteroid mission, it was informed by several briefers and sources that the current planned asteroid mission has significant shortcomings.
"A current stated interim goal of NASA's human spaceflight program is to visit an asteroid by 2025," said Albert Carnesale, chancellor emeritus and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who chaired the NRC 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. 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." [NASA's 2013 Budget: What Will It Buy? (Video)]