I was visiting another blog, half sigma which, despite its lack of good ideas, is so good as to act independently of political parties and brings up good points now and again, like this one about the shuttle program. It got me thinking, and I decided to lay out the practical policy on NASA.
NASA is currently stuck in a rut. It does not have the same kind of aspirations, nor funding, of its heyday back when it was breaking in new frontiers and winning the space race. It is also stuck spending much of its precious little money maintaining a relic of twenty years (the shuttle) that does little for moving forward the United States' interests in space. That said, the only trails it is trodding are that of the International Space Station and exploration in the form of telescopes and the occasional (very occasional) unmanned mission to another planet. The ISS is a disaster, with costs out of control, undependable partners, an unclear goal, no dependable time table, and a design that looks remarkably similar to the same stations the Soviets & Americans were putting up back in the 70's. The explorations are at best tepid, once again, nothing daring as America sends missions to Mars that are more remarkable for their accomplishments relative to their small budgets than any real exploration. Thus stands the problem, now the solution.
In view of the practical ideology, NASA should act much like a specialized government research program. The research is important because it maintains both our economic and political security. Political due to the boundless military applications, and economic due to its endless potential in any number of fields, among them resources, energy, and services. It is NASA's economic duty to open up a frontier so that American companies can exploit it and make it useful. The military applications are already being pursued through the pentagon, thus leaving NASA with the economic. It also has the potential to act as a national ego booster, but any program can do that, if properly executed & publicized. The way for NASA to live by these goals is stay on the cutting edge, always out on a limb and pursuing the most far-fetched, least feasible ideas. It can accomplish this through both grants and aggressive, space race type, programs, like a space elevator, or moon colony. This said, NASA's two main inhibitors are the shuttle and funding. As the budget stands today, NASA ain't getting more funding until other problems are fixed, but the shuttle can be dumped rapidly. After the work on the ISS is completed (we've put too much into it to give up now), the program should be scaled back considerably and NASA should look to a much cheaper replacement so it can use its funds towards the afore-mentioned goals. So stands practical policy on NASA.