I had a chance to participate in a live press conference with orbiting crews of Space Shuttle Atlantis and the International Space Station this morning from NASA Headquarters. This is what I asked STS-135 commander Chris Ferguson:
"This is the last shuttle mission - so most of you will probably not get to fly again - at least not for a few years. It must get tiring for you as you try and plan a career and stay motivated. You must feel like a tennis ball at times since the White House proposes a space policy and then Congress fiddles with it and so on. As we speak you guys are floating off planet on the edge of tomorrow - literally. That certainly offers you a unique perspective. What is it that we should be doing to really explore and utilize space - specifically what should policy makers be doing to make that happen? What should they stop doing? What should they start doing? You are going to be talking to the President in a few hours, what might you say to him about this? Will we be "boldly going" or just continue to waste time pretending that we are doing this with Powerpoint?"
Ferguson replied "I share your frustration. We have seen many interesting programs come and go at NASA without coming to fruition. This was due to politics and budgets and also dynamic events - things outside our control such as the loss of Columbia. If there is one thing I'd say [to policymakers] it is that we need to focus our efforts. I'd appeal to Congress to focus on the long term. They need to look at the horizon - look out 10 years and see where they want the nation to be. We need a coherent space policy that will take us 10 to 15 years out - a decadal plan - and then make it a law so that we have to follow it so that Congress and future administrations are obliged to follow the policy that we, as a nation, have set forth."