You write so often about NASA's failures and high costs, but you don't ever write about all the good they do for science. How about acknowledging that NASA funds tons of research and spends millions on education programs for youth? How about acknowledging innovations that NASA brought about, like velcro.
Ah yes, the immortal "NASA invented velcro therefore cannot be criticized" argument. At face value, this might seem okay. One might infer from the idea that NASA has invented Velcro that they also have invented many other extremely helpful things, like "astronaut ice cream" and this somehow means that the billions and billions they throw at a nearly-pointless return to the moon are somehow okay.
But, unfortunately, NASA didn't invent velcro. Velcro was invented in 1941 by George de Mestral, a Swiss engineer, based on burrs he had stuck to his clothing. He achieved a successful design in 1951 and was awarded a patent in 1955. NASA, on the other hand, didn't even exist until 1958. Guess that about wraps that up...
Listen, I am a big, big fan of NASA. Their mission statement, "To improve life here, to extend life to there, to find life beyond" is succinct and brilliant. When I was barely 6 years old I saw a shuttle launch from Cape Canaveral. We were several miles away, but even from there, you could see the glowing beast of a shuttle hurl into the sky, and watch the primary rockets fall away, until the shuttle was eventually lost from view. I grew up with a father who dreamed of going to space, and then vicariously dreamed that I might go to space. I watched Star Trek and Star Wars religiously. The crazy missions to the Hubble, Mars, and the construction of the ISS have all been highlights in my life. I was one of the people who let the SETI program borrow my computer at night to process radio wave information.
I don't need to go on really. I know how much NASA, and space exploration, means to me. And that is exactly why I am so critical of it! Watching your single favorite government organization (well, DARPA is pretty cool, too) fall into bureaucratic oblivion, pandering to the whims of whatever the current President says the agenda should be, overspending their budget year after year funding elephantine projects with no clear timeline or budget, not requiring their subs to perform at a certain level, and worst of all: creating unattainable, but PR-friendly goals and then spending enormous amounts of money on not achieving them.
NASA, it seems to me, is suffering from a lack of leadership. Leadership at NASA, in turn, is suffering from a lack of autonomy. As long as lobbyists (cough...Boeing...cough) gets to sole-source projects, and Senators and Presidents listen to the whispered promises in their ears from those lobbyists, then NASA policies are sadly, and fatally, political. I have mentioned here before that NASA put 7 mission on the moon for less money than they think it will cost to send the single proposed moon mission. Don't listen to liars who tell you that it is because safety testing is more rigorous, or that material costs have risen, or that labor is more expensive. The reason that it costs so much for NASA to do anything is because ginormous companies get sole-source contracts with vague goals and inflationary budgets.
Space exploration has a new purpose: feed dollars into private industry.
My father likes to chide sports commentators with this line: "if these idiots knew so much, why aren't they coaches?" The same could possibly be aimed at me. If I have all the answers to NASA's problems, why don't I be put in charge of NASA? Wouldn't I like that. The reason I will never be the head of NASA (unless, of course, someone really nice wanted me to...please...) and the reason I will never be President of the United States is because I am not integrated into a political machine that is self-sustaining. I sit here writing this as a criticism, whereas if I wanted to be head of NASA I'd be writing a glowing report about how their current missions reflect an attitude of intrepidity towards lunar and Martian exploration. Rather than suggesting a 50 dollar, foolproof toilet, I'd be marveling at the ingenuity of the $19 million toilet they recently installed (that subsequently broke twice). Instead of suggesting they completely abandon the ISS, the lunar mission (and probably Mars missions as well) I'd be pulling strings with people I know to get a position in line for those trips. Instead of complaining about space garbage, I'd be pointing out all the neat-o satellites we've gotten into space.
But then again, maybe what NASA needs is a critic in charge. Maybe they need a jolt in the backside, someone to step in and say "this organization is the single greatest group of engineers in the history of mankind, but you all need to work on your goal setting," and then start open-bidding less ambitious, shorter-term goals that integrate into a long-term goal strategy.
Why are we paying Northrup-Grumman tens of millions to design and build a new lunar lander, when we already have the ones they built for us 40 years ago?