Why so vague? It all gets back to defining terms and in asking what does it mean to ask ‘does NASA have a chance?’ The key term to define is ‘a chance’ and as Milton Friedman and others have noted, government endeavors, agencies, and bureaucracies themselves have a tendency to not go away. When they fail, their budgets often grow. But it won’t be that way for NASA for some time. Is NASA now on a form of life support? It might be pretty close…
If having ‘a chance’ means NASA will continue to exist for a very long time, that’s a slam dunk. If having ‘a chance’ means meaningfully contributing to space exploration and furthering scientific understanding, that’s a definite maybe, based in large part to the inability of NASA (and government in general) to bring in projects on time, on budget, and on performance.
But if having ‘a chance’ means definitively advancing the space industrial base, using space to advance the human condition here on earth, or doing things cheaper, faster, or better than “new space,” absolutely not. Why? NASA (and again, government in general) does not respond well to market forces and needs, small businesses, job creators, and investors. It isn’t the big that eat the small, it’s the fast that eat the slow. And the only way to keep the slow from being eaten is to give them preferential treatment.
It seems, given the NASA Administrator’s recent piece in the Orlando Sentinel and the Deputy Administrator’s recent comments, that they have a near-complete awareness of NASA’s challenges and that a ‘more of the same’ future is destined to lead to diminishing returns and in time, a funding crisis. And these things will conspire to keep any risk-adjusted benefit from accruing to the United States.
Such a NASA future isn’t destiny, but it is a trend.