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Surprising Science

Is NASA Going In The Right Direction?

Last month’s report from the National Research Council suggests that some objectives set by the Obama administration should be reevaluated in light of “national consensus” about space research and exploration.

What’s the Latest Development?

The National Research Council (NRC), a 12-person study group, recently released a report that questions NASA’s current research and development path, highlighting, among other things, President Barack Obama’s 2010 directive towards manned deep-space missions. Concerning the goal of a manned visit to an asteroid or similar near-Earth object, the group says it’s “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.” However, it says that the same parties are interested in unmanned asteroid visits, and there’s still enthusiasm for another manned trip to the moon.

What’s the Big Idea?

Former astronaut Tom Jones says he agrees that some of the administration’s goals may be too lofty, and that using a robotic spacecraft to “tow” a small asteroid into lunar orbit for research and dissection may be more doable in the short term. However, Planetary Science Institute director Mark Sykes says that a manned mission to a near-Earth object will help ensure the future of space exploration: “If we want a permanent American presence in space, we need to learn to live off the land. Near-Earth objects are our best opportunity to accomplish this cost-effectively.”

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