Happy half century NASA!

The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration is 50 years old today. With an annual budget of some $17bn (€12bn), and a much higher public profile than its European cousin (which last year spent just €3bn), NASA is synonymous with space exploration.

Five decades in the business, many successes and relatively few failures to its name give NASA every reason to celebrate today. But when the cake crumbs are cleared up and the empties deposited in the bottle bank, the agency needs to sort out the almighty mess it is in.

The US has to date invested over €20bn in the International Space Station. Yet with the ageing Space Shuttle fleet due to retire in 2010, its replacement still on the drawing board, no European astronaut transport vehicle available, a new cold war brewing with Russia, and Chinese taikonauts strolling outside their orbiting capsule, NASA needs to pull its finger out in order to secure the free world’s leadership in space.