A new report by the National Research Council is laying out a stark future for NASA, once the source of deep patriotic pride for Americans and a leader in technological advancement.
NASA’s lack of funding and undefined goals are threatening the agency’s sustainability, according to the report. NBC News Space Analyst James Oberg argued on Jansing & Co. Friday that the agency’s many different goals–including expeditions to Mars and exploring the earliest galaxies with the $8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope–are central to its mission.
“When you look at NASA’s program today, it’s not nearly as tightly focused” as it was during the Space Race, Oberg explained. “I think that’s a good thing, though, because we’ve gotten to a broader area of capabilities. So when they refer to some problems they see at NASA, to me those are problems not of aging, but of maturing.”
But operating on many fronts has made it harder "to keep the political will focused," Oberg conceded. NASA's funding is appropriated by Congress, and with fights over the federal budget, increasing the agency's funds is probably a political nonstarter.
The National Research Council warned in its report that if NASA continues down the track it's on, other countries' space programs and private companies threaten to take its place. Without getting more funds from Congress, NASA would have to partner with other space programs, cut jobs, or start cutting down on its programs and facilities.
Oberg told Jansing Friday that other countries and private companies have been able to take advantage of NASA's research and development. "That is a sign of the success of NASA’s technology in the past and it’s a sign of what it should be doing in the future, which is keep pushing new technologies, [and] keep the funding high enough to keep the right kind of people working there," Oberg said.
According to a NASA report, funding is projected to remain flat over the next four years.