This month, NASA marks its 55th anniversary. As our agency celebrates its achievements, it is also drawing strong criticism. A panel of scientists, including astronaut Bob Crippen, previously criticized NASA for lacking a clear mission and goals.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma U.S. Senator Tom Coburn has accused several NASA projects of wasting our money. He specifically cited a $947,000 food-testing project in Hawaii. It used a six-member team to cook and test recipes we could one day use on Mars.
A government audit showed NASA is spending more than $700,000 a year on an outdated database managers rarely use. And Coburn cited a video game project that NASA is committing $1.5-million to developing.
We asked a NASA spokesman for an interview since February. He cancelled our first scheduled interview, and after repeated attempts to schedule another, we never heard back. But scientists at MOSI in Tampa strongly defended NASA.
"To criticize them after all they've done just seems a little unfair," said MOSI's planetarium manager, Timothy Hill. He defended the video game and food projects. "NASA should definitely capitalize on that to get young people interested in traveling in space...We do know one day people, will travel to Mars."
"You kind of have to look at it in the big picture of things," offered Anthony Pelaez, MOSI's director of education. "I think NASA could probably do a better job in terms of being able to communicate everything that it does."
NASA administrators have said they do have big plans and goals. The agency is letting private companies focus on low-earth orbit, so NASA can target future missions in deep space. NASA is currently developing a capsule that could fly to the moon or an asteroid, and a super-rocket that could get it there.