While discussions are ongoing about the future direction of NASA, whether to continue on the Journey to Mars or go on a Sprint to the Moon, former NASA official Wayne Hale suggests that the agency itself needs to change if it is going to be able to do anything. Hale points to three main problems that are stymying NASA ability to do any long term space exploration projects.

  • Inter-center rivalry,
  • Mind numbing bureaucracy,
  • A paralyzing cultural requirement for perfection in all things.

Hale, who saw all of these problems close at hand, suggests some sensible solutions, such as centralizing management above the NASA center level, eliminating layers of bureaucracy, and permitting a degree of risk when planning space missions.

Some NASA administrators have assumed the leadership of the space agency vowing reforms only to be stymied. Perhaps, with a presidential mandate, the next administrator could be more successful, whether he is Jim Bridenstine or some other person.

Indeed, maybe Hale could be brought back into public service as deputy administrator with a mandate to do the necessary reorganization.

In the meantime, NASA is evaluating the idea of sending astronauts around the moon by 2019. The suggestion has caused much debate among space policy experts, though there are some indications that the public at large is enthusiastic about the idea. But one argument for the mission that has not been mentioned is that if the space agency is ordered to undertake it, it would be forced to change along the lines that Hale suggests.

The current NASA, which requires endless meetings and memos to make a decision, is not likely to be able to undertake a Lunar Mission in two years. However, as the faster better cheaper reforms of the 1990s helped to facilitate planetary missions such as New Horizons and Mars Curiosity, reshaping NASA to make it nimble enough to do human space exploration in a timely manner is certainly doable. Such an effort will need an important goal such as going back to the moon guiding it and leadership at the highest level ensuring it. All it takes is the will to carry it out.