Have rockets, will travel

NASA’s mission is to change under President Barack Obama’s leadership.

No human being has walked on the moon since Apollo 17 went there in 1972. President George W. Bush set into motion a program that would repeat the feat by 2020, but President Barack Obama has a dramatically different plan for NASA. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden unveiled the space agencyâÄôs new spending plans about a week ago, calling them âÄúfundamentally new.âÄù He says they will make âÄúcommercially provided services the primary mode of astronaut transportation to the International Space Station.âÄù By outsourcing routine space flights to the private sector and fostering international collaborations, NASA would be able to refocus its funds and energy on deep space travel and the development of broadly applicable new technologies. Those efforts would also be supported by a comfortable budget increase in coming years. Not everyone is a fan of the so-called âÄúFlexible PathâÄù proposal. Michael Griffin, who led NASA during the Bush administration and championed the Constellation moon program, called the new strategy âÄústupid.âÄù He cites the time-tested, goal-driven model of the Apollo era, in which innovation arose in response to specific technological challenges. Like many critics, he says the new NASA would lack focus. Though the cancellation of the Constellation program to return to the moon will effectively waste billions of dollars and years of progress, ObamaâÄôs new vision for NASA is bold and forward-looking. The decades-old shuttle program is slated for imminent retirement, and the Orion program was too much of a throwback to the Apollo era, now four decades past. With the burden of these mammoth programs off its shoulders, NASA can again become the âÄúengine of innovationâÄù it once was.