NASA will remain a leader in human spaceflight, top official says

The decommissioned space shuttle Endeavour reaches its final home in Los Angeles in October. A committee of the National Research Council discussed the direction of NASA's human space flight program in Washington on Wednesday.
(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

NASA’s human spaceflight program is “alive and well,” NASA chief Charles Bolden told a committee convened to explore the space program’s future goals and direction.

“Those who question whether we can still lead in space fail to understand that a nation which has achieved so many firsts never follows and never will,” Bolden told the National Research Council committee during a daylong meeting in Washington meant to help gather evidence to review the human spaceflight program.

Bolden’s remarks to the committee come soon after the decommissioning of the iconic space shuttle program, leaving the U.S. without its own space-worthy vehicles to take astronauts to low-Earth orbit. And just this month a separate NRC committee report examining NASA’s overall strategic direction concluded that the human spaceflight division suffered from a lack of consensus on what its goals should be.


While President Obama has called for sending a manned mission to an asteroid in the mid-2020s and to Mars in the 2030s, there doesn’t appear to be much support for that goal in NASA’s ranks and among the public, the earlier report found. Many interviewed argued for a return to the moon first, according to the report.

Bolden acknowledged the long-lived enthusiasm for the moon, but called it a “generational” gap -- many of his colleagues from the days of the Apollo program have expressed their dissatisfaction with the current direction, he said.

When it comes to revisiting our next-door neighbor, other countries may have to step in and take up the challenge, he added.

“We can’t do everything,” Bolden said. “We can lead through inspiration.”

Bolden also said the report writers may have missed certain things because the study was conducted during the generally quieter times just before the presidential election.

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