Transforming NASA, Continued
In response to my own question...
Assuming the agency makes this transformation, what should NASA do? This is a question for the agency and its employees, but also the taxpayers and our elected leadership.
First, we must accept the fact that NASA's mission derives from the mission and policies of the United States Government, however constituted. For the sake of discussion, I will borrow a premise from Philip Bobbitt's The Shield of Achilles:
The State will maximize the opportunity of its citizens.
This definition uniquely directs and constrains the direction of government agencies like NASA. From here, I would propose the following mission objectives for the agency:
- Exploration: Send human and robotic explorers to celestial bodies never previously visited.
- Science and Technology Incubation: Provide facilities and test beds for basic science and technology research, with the results being available to all.
- Technology Transfer: Identify direct-application and "spinoff" technologies derived from space hardware to solve problems and improve life on Earth.
This list, however brief, is still general enough to allow for the Constellation Program, building the first Moon base, and developing in-space technologies. If the list appears a little too brief for some, once the Shuttle retires, these will be NASA's primary missions anyway. Still, I've striven to give the list more of a NACA feel to it, which would follow neatly from the notion that government should exist to maximize opportunities for its citizens, not do everything for them. Basic facts about the nature of the universe should be available to all; what people make of those facts is the business of individuals and corporations, with the government protecting innovations and inventions through patents and copyrights.
Feel free to throw out your own premises. The top-level exercise of describing "what sort of space agency we want" also helps constrain and describe what sorts of transformation need to occur with the agency. Let the contemplation continue.