A few months ago, NASA asked for comments from the general public. One of their questions was: What is your understanding and opinion of NASA's current vision, mission and strategic direction? If you think NASA's vision, mission and strategic direction should be different from the above, please state what they should be and why. Part of the answer I sent in, slightly edited, was this:
I think the NASA vision ("Improve life here, extend life to there, and find life beyond") should have the 'extend life to there' first, and 'improve life here' second, not because the latter is unimportant, but because NASA's unique goal should be the outwards push. This push will improve life here eventually since science and technology are always spurred to develop by people coping with new environments, but other government bodies exist primarily to look inwards. NASA alone is pushing out, and that shouldn't be diluted in my view.
NASA is developing a system to take humans to target an asteroid by 2025 and Mars by the 2030s. I think the target should be more immediate (within ten years), bold but achievable, and most important: permanent. By permanent I mean the infrastructure that is set up should be permanent and can grow with time, rather than being doomed to destruction like the ISS or the shuttles (great achievements, but they fade rather than growing). There are limits to growth on an asteroid. The easiest target that fits these criteria is a permanent base on the Moon. Of course, NASA has been to the Moon before, but I'd like to point out the difference between the abortive Viking visits to America and the Pilgrim fathers who settled and 'grew' into something new that contributed to human culture and science (and unfortunately displaced the native Americans, but happily there's no one to displace on the Moon). So I'd suggest a permanent base on the Moon: and Mars later on, since it is little better in terms of livability and too far away for easy travel and interaction. These goals would be more achievable if NASA utilised companies like SpaceX who have proven their efficiency.
Also, I think NASA needs to start thinking more about game changing technologies for Earth-Moon-Mars travel and fund people to look into it (ahem). Further, making NASA independent of political control with a fixed budget would enable it to follow a steadier course. Decisions are sometimes not being made logically by scientists, but emotionally by politicians to please states or groups, and this decreases efficiency.