Homer Hickam claims he knows how to fix NASA in three easy steps, as he describes in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. First, he says, “suck it up and fund SpaceX” and other companies to take over access to low Earth orbit. Second, “convince the president to install new management at NASA.” Why? Hickam believes the president “has opted out of the decision-making process” and turned things over to presidential science advisor John Holdren and the administrator and deputy administrator of NASA, people Hickam clearly isn’t happy with. (He curiously claims that NASA administrator Charles Bolden, a former astronaut, “has never led anything more complex than a six-person shuttle crew”; he and the Journal’s editors may have forgotten that Bolden is a retired two-star Marine Corps general whose last posting was as commander of the Third Marine Aircraft Wing, which presumably is more complex than a shuttle crew.) The third step: “order up a mission beyond Earth orbit” analogous to the Apollo missions to the Moon; he specifically suggests a base at the Moon’s south pole. How much will that cost? “You don’t have to add a cent to the paltry amount NASA gets,” he claims, just point it in the right direction “and watch its excellent engineers pull it off.” He notably doesn’t give a specific timetable for establishing that base on NASA’s current budget.
North of the border, Matt Gurney of Canada’s National Post is worried the US is risking the expertise NASA has built up over the years with its current plans and funding levels. “Under President Obama, NASA has become an afterthought. There is no plan in place to return to the moon or Mars, no manned missions planned to the asteroid belt,” he claims (although the president did set a goal of a human mission to a near Earth asteroid by 2025 in his April 15 speech at the Kennedy Space Center). He also oddly warns that “NASA might need a continuing resolution to stay afloat”: NASA, like the rest of the federal government, has in fact had to use CRs to “stay float” since the fiscal year started almost two and a half months ago. Unlike Hickam, Gurney doesn’t offer a three-step (or any-step, for that matter) solution to the perceived problem, beyond worrying that the current policy is “crippling America’s ability to explore – and if necessary, wage war in – space.”