Voices: Experts and Analysts Weigh In On NASA's New Direction

This storywas updated Oct. 4 at 11:05 a.m. EDT

A NASAauthorization bill that will pave the way for several NASA projects ? includingan extra space shuttle flight and the development of a heavy-lift rocket forfuture missions to an asteroid and Mars ? was passed by Congress late Wednesday(Sept. 29).

The bill, S.3729, which was approvedby the House, includes a $19 billion budget in 2011 for the U.S. spaceagency, and a total of $58 billion through 2013.

It alsoallows NASA to extend its role in the International Space Station through atleast 2020 and sets aside $1.3 billion over three years to support thedevelopment of commercial spacecraft.

SPACE.comasked several experts, analysts and stakeholders about their thoughts on NASA's new direction. Here are their responses and statements:

ElonMusk, SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies) CEO

"Competitivecommercialcrew transport with multiple providers is definitely the right directionfor NASA vs the old style government monopoly approach. The former is how allother modes of transport work and do so safely and efficiently."

CharlesBolden, NASA Chief

"We aregrateful that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration AuthorizationAct of 2010 received strong support in the House after its clearance in theSenate, and can now be sent on to the President for his signature.

The President has laid out an ambitious new plan for NASA that pioneers newfrontiers of innovation and discovery. The plan invests more in NASA; extendsthe life of the International Space Station; launches a commercial spacetransportation industry; fosters the development of path-breaking technologies;and helps create thousands of new jobs. Passage of this bill represents animportant step forward towards helping us achieve the key goals set by thePresident.

This important change in direction will not only help us chart a new path inspace, but can help us retool for the industries and jobs of the future thatwill be vital for long term economic growth."

DavidMorrison, Director of the Carl Sagan Center for Study of Life in the Universeat the SETI Institute and Director of the NASA Lunar Science Institute

"Ican't comment since we don't yet know what direction it will be. Until Congresspasses an appropriation and the President signs it, we are somewhat inlimbo."

RobertZubrin, president of the Mars Society

"Idon't think that NASA has a direction. That is precisely the problem. Theadministration is proposing to spend 10 years and $100 billion to accomplishnothing. NASA needs a goal. That goal should be humans to Mars by 2020."

Leroy Chiao, former NASA astronaut

"I remain cautiously optimistic for the future of NASA and US Human Spaceflight. While the transition has not and will not be easy, my hope is that the result will be a more robust and sustainable program which reaches beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO) within a reasonable timeline.

The NASA Authorization (S.3279) was an overall compromise that was politically realistic. It calls for beyond-LEO exploration, the development of a heavy-lift booster and funding for stimulating commercial crew transportation to LEO. It also calls for the development of a crew exploration vehicle that retains essential elements of Orion. My hope is that this will allow NASA to move forward."

MikeMealling, VP Business Development, Masten Space Systems

"The Senate legislation isn't perfect, but it allowscommercial companies to prove themselves in very short order while assuagingthe fears of those unfamiliar with what commercial space companies canaccomplish. Regarding exploration, I do hope that NASA is allowed to choose anaffordable path forward on heavy lift, one that fits inside Senator Nelson'scost cap of $11.5 billion, so we don't have to go through another PresidentialCommission in another five years."

ClarkChapman, senior scientist at the Southwest Research Institute

"I havenot had the chance to study the bill in detail (e.g. about the aspects I ammost interested in, including the science programs and eventual humanexploration of the asteroids, the moon, and Mars), but I gather that it retainsmany features of President Obama's plans. I don't have strong opinions aboutexactly how NASA should get out of its doldrums within the presently availablefunds, particularly with regard to disposition of the shuttle and the ISS, andthe roleof commercial companies in future human space travel. I only hope thatsomething can be agreed upon. As I understand it, this is only one in a seriesof steps that must be taken to move forward, with appropriations still in thefuture."

NeildeGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, director of New York City's Hayden Planetarium

"NASA,it seems, has had a "new direction" every year for the past decade.How can it be so hard for everyone to agree that the right direction for NASAis up? Last I checked, Republicans and Democrats, the Senate and the House,industry and entrepreneurs, were all fighting one another over NASA's future.NASA is not the kind of agency whose future should be settled in compromise. Perhapsthese warring factions have lost sight that it's the American people, and notthey, who are NASA's primary stake-holders."

LouisFriedman, executive director of the Planetary Society, via blog

"TheNASA Authorization bills proposed in Congress barely mention exploration. Theycontain heavy prescriptions for how to build things, pointing to specificcontractors. Having politicians design our rockets, propulsion systems, crewvehicles and payloads is a prescription for spending lots of money andaccomplishing little. When President Kennedy told NASA to get to the Moon,Congress didn?t prescribe the payload capacity of Saturn or its choice of fuel.Nor did they prescribe Earth orbit rendezvous or Moon orbit rendezvous. Theyleft those designs to engineers and scientists. The same needs to happen now.

That?s why Ipersonally oppose both Authorization bills. I am putting my hopes in theAppropriations Committees. Maybe they will authorize the funding and tell NASAto get beyond the Moon, leaving how to the scientists and engineers. Or maybe Iam too na?ve."

MikeGriffin, NASA's former Chief, in an interview The Huntsville Times

"Whileit is true that the Senate bill offers some improvement over the Obamaadministration's ill-advised plan for NASA, in my considered opinion it is notenough better to warrant its support in law.

As happened after the loss of space shuttle Columbia, it is time once again toask ourselves whether we want to have a real space program, or not. If we do,then the Senate bill won't get us there. If we cannot do better than that, thenI believe we have reached the point where it is better to allow the damagewhich has been brought about by the administration's actions to play out to itsconclusion than to accept half-measures in an attempt at remediation."

ElliotPulham, Space Foundation CEO

"America'scivil space program has been in costly and divisive turmoil since Congressreceived the President's FY11 budget proposal. Although the Senate-crafteddirection for NASA is an imperfect compromise, its passage, with the Presidentexpected to sign the bill into law, should help stabilize the space agency andindustry for the near term.

Some form ofcompromise had to be found or U.S. leadership in space exploration would havebeen in jeopardy. NASA has always enjoyed strong bipartisan support inCongress, and it's gratifying to see that Congress continues to view NASA as animportant investment in the nation's future."

Sen. BillNelson (D-Fla.), credited with shaping the Senate version of the bill

"Thisis a great night for our nation's space program. Now we have to make sure theagency gets the funding necessary to get the job done."

CongressmanBart Gordon (D-TN), Committeeon Science and Technology Chairman

"It hasbeen a difficult year for NASA and its civil servants and contractorworkforce. We are in tough economic times, and sacrifices will have to bemade. However, NASA is an investment in our future, and in the future ofour children. The United States has been a global leader in spaceexploration and technology and innovation, and our efforts over the remainderof this Congress should be aimed at preserving that leadership position.?

Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), Ranking Member of the House Science and TechnologyCommittee

"While I am not completely satisfiedwith the Senate bill, I am very pleased it passed?  Congress is obligatedto provide clear policy direction to NASA to keep vital agency programsfunded and on track. While I preferred the compromise language offered byChairman Gordon, I am pleased that we were at least able to pass a bill.

This Administration?s misguided plan forhuman spaceflight would put NASA on a dangerous and unproven path. It isessential for Congress to weigh-in and pass a bill to counter these policyobjectives; otherwise we would essentially be rubberstamping the White Houseplan.

S. 3729 keeps important programs funded,directs NASA to develop a multipurpose crew vehicle and a new heavy-lift launchsystem, and allows commercial space companies to prove theircapabilities.  Without a bill, the jobs of a world class NASA workforceand thousands of highly-skilled private contractors who support human spaceflight would have been lost."

Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D-New SmyrnaBeach)

"This legislation is critical to ourefforts to help protect Space Coast jobs and minimize the human spaceflightgap. Adding another Shuttle flight is a major success in our fight to preserveour highly skilled workforce and ease the transition for the Space Coast. Inaddition, this bill accelerates the development of a NASA-led vehicle to keepNASA strong, while at the same time supporting the growth of the commercialspaceflight industry, which will help diversify the local economy and providenew opportunities for Space Coast workers.

Quickly signing this legislation intolaw will provide much-needed direction and stability for NASA and the SpaceCoast while maintaining America?s global leadership in space exploration."

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Arizona),chair of the House Science space and aeronautics subcommittee

During the House debate on the bill, shesaid, "will force NASA to build a rocket designed by Senators and not byengineers."

Several members of the House Science andTechnology Committee joined Giffords in opposing the bill, including them Reps.Donna Edwards (D-Md.), David Wu (D-Ore.) and F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.),according to Space News.

Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), memberof the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees NASA spending

"I am not convinced this Administrationis serious about human spaceflight goals beyond the Space Station, so I will beworking with my colleagues to help make our space program goals worthy of thisgreat nation. I can assure you that there will be an unusual level ofcongressional oversight and scrutiny given to how these taxpayer dollars arespent."

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Denise Chow
NBC News science writer

Denise Chow is a former Space.com staff writer who then worked as assistant managing editor at Live Science before moving to NBC News as a science reporter, where she focuses on general science and climate change. She spent two years with Space.com, writing about rocket launches and covering NASA's final three space shuttle missions, before joining the Live Science team in 2013. A Canadian transplant, Denise has a bachelor's degree from the University of Toronto, and a master's degree in journalism from New York University. At NBC News, Denise covers general science and climate change.