NASA: 50 Years of Figuring Out What They Do

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration was signed into existence 50 years ago today. The Economist has a good, reasonably breif, article about the intentions and directions of the agency. Being the Economist, it’s partially speculation about potential private-industry virtues of “space exploration”. But the article is more about the division between the dreams of the manned and unmanned branches of the agency. It also mentions the earth-observing program, which I think is a third NASA branch unto itself. The article suggests the unmanned probe makers may tolerate the manned exploration romantics just as cover and funding-bait. And possibly vice a versa. Maybe the earth-observers can likewise use both the manned and the unmanned missions as an infrastructure to exploit. Either dream is closer to the original mandate of the massive NASA bureaucracy than building satellites to measure the environment, which could be a hard sell on it’s own. Or maybe, nowadays, astronauts and probes both just draw away money and steam it off into space.

Many happy returns? — The Economist

Also see A Rocket to Nowhere, from a few years back.

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