warning that the average age of the space workforce was increasing.4 More recently, the military services have experienced serious problems in the acquisition of several DOD space systems that have been blamed on management problems caused by poorly trained or unqualified personnel, funding instability, and overly ambitious requirements. Recent discussion in the DOD has raised the charge that the United States is currently suffering from a shortage of experienced and competently trained technical management personnel in a large number of areas, not simply in space programs. Other studies, such as those conducted by the RAND Corporation concerning the United Kingdom’s shipbuilding and submarine manufacturing base, have identified the dangers of allowing specific areas of expertise and workers’ skill sets to atrophy and disappear—reconstituting these capabilities later may be very expensive.

The recommendations produced by the macro and area-specific studies may not always be compatible. The macro studies are generally focused on enlarging the overall base, whereas the area-specific studies sometimes recommend solutions that favor one part of the technical base over another, requiring favoring one field or government agency over another, or, at the very least, prioritizing responses within an agency. As several surveys of the overall S&E workforce have demonstrated, fields that were once highly attractive to technically-trained college students, such as aerospace engineering, have now been supplanted by other fields, such as software development and genetic engineering. One could argue that congressional action in recent years to double the National Institutes of Health budget has helped fuel the migration to biomedical and biotechnology fields in much the same way that the infusion of funding into NASA during the Apollo era fueled the moves to aerospace fields in the 1960s. One of NASA’s challenges will be to maintain and nurture its workforce at a time when there are more attractive alternatives in other fields and when a large infusion of new funding into the space program is not likely.

THE VISION FOR SPACE EXPLORATION

In January 2004, almost 1 year following the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia and her crew, President Bush announced a new civil space policy that would refocus NASA’s broad range of research and engineering projects toward the human and robotic exploration of the Moon, Mars, and eventually other solar system bodies. This new vision for space exploration specified human lunar missions as early as 2015, but no later than 2020. Although neither the President nor NASA explicitly endorsed a specific time line for a human Mars landing, the vision does embrace human missions to Mars as an eventual goal after the return to the Moon.

As a consequence of this redirected U.S. space policy, the NASA leadership has restructured the agency, which now includes the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate and Science Mission Directorate, with overlapping responsibilities for implementing the vision, as well as the Space Operations Mission Directorate, which is responsible for the space shuttle program and for assembly and operation of the International Space Station, and the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate. NASA Administrator Griffin has stated that he has no plans to further restructure NASA.

In fall 2005 NASA formally unveiled the results of its Exploration Systems Architecture Study (ESAS), which outlined the overall engineering approach to achieving the lunar landing goal. The final version of the ESAS report was released in January 2006, and the NRC workforce committee was briefed on the results at the January 23-24, 2006, workshop.5

The ESAS report outlined a space exploration approach requiring a new crew exploration vehicle for ferrying humans into space, a lunar surface access module for landing astronauts on the Moon, and

4  

Gen. Thomas S. Moorman, Jr., U.S. Air Force (retired), testimony before the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, May 15, 2001.

5  

National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Exploration Systems Architecture Study Final Report, NASA, Washington, D.C., 2005.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement