CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- NASA's human spaceflight program, once a symbol of America's technical supremacy, is flailing -- beset by many of the same forces that once unified behind the agency to put a man on the moon.
With the space shuttle set to retire this year, and no successor imminent, today's NASA is being pulled apart by burdensome congressional demands, shrinking federal budgets, greedy contractors, a hidebound bureaucracy and an ambitious new commercial space industry that wants to shake up the status quo.
"Our civil space agency has decayed from Kennedy's and Reagan's visions of opening a new frontier to the point where it's just a jobs program in a death spiral of addiction and denial, with thousands of honest innovators trapped inside like flies in bureaucratic amber," said space-policy consultant James Muncy.
Efforts to get the agency back on track are in trouble. Already, a new plan for NASA signed into law by President Barack Obama in October -- to replace the Constellation program, which spent $12 billion without producing a rocket -- appears to be unraveling.