robotic lunar spacecraft and continuing its robotic exploration of Mars. Expert personnel will also be needed to manage these efforts and interpret the data collected.

Other major aspects of NASA’s overall space program that are not exclusively part of the VSE may affect achievement of the VSE in various ways. These include the agency’s space science program, encompassing planetary science, Earth sciences, heliophysics, and astrophysics. The NASA administrator, and the Bush administration’s new national space policy, have indicated that NASA is committed to a balanced program of exploration that includes research to understand Earth, the solar system, and the larger universe that extends well beyond the solar system, in addition to the human space program. In the past NASA has also supported a broadly based research program in the physical and biological sciences, microgravity science, and aeronautics, but recently the microgravity programs have been scaled back and focused more narrowly on (primarily biomedical) areas that NASA views as directly supporting nearer-term aspects of the VSE.14 Aeronautics has also experienced significant budget reductions.

In statements from numerous experts outside NASA during its January 2006 workshop, briefings during its meetings in 2006, and in the report of NASA’s Systems Engineering and Institutional Transition Team (SEITT), the committee heard that, in the short term, the agency lacks the required in-house talent to successfully oversee VSE projects. In particular, it lacks several hundred skilled personnel in the area of program/project management and systems engineering.15 The committee believes that NASA recognizes this shortfall and has taken some steps to correct it, such as implementation of the “smart buyer” program to recruit retired employees with Space Shuttle development experience. The committee regards as limited its own ability to provide recommendations to solve the short-term problem of NASA’s current lack of required in-house expertise.


The committee defines the workforce needed to accomplish the Vision for Space Exploration in its broadest sense. That is, to succeed in accomplishing the VSE’s goals, the nation will need the best expertise and best efforts of workers not only inside NASA but also in NASA’s partner institutions in industry, academia, and other federal agencies. This national civil space workforce is highly geographically dispersed, as are NASA’s own field centers. Given the involvement of industry and universities, science and technology workers who will contribute to the VSE effort will be found in every state in the Union.

NASA states that it will conduct a balanced program that seeks to support many different efforts, but the agency is highly constrained by the budget that Congress grants it, as well as by expectations placed on NASA by the new space exploration policy. The committee therefore examined the issue of science staffing as well as engineering staffing and, at the request of Scott Pace, the NASA associate administrator for program assessment and evaluation, also discussed activities currently conducted by NASA that could perhaps be phased out. The committee assumed that NASA’s budget will remain relatively flat over the life of the VSE and that the VSE will be pursued over the period that NASA intends.

NASA currently has a budget-driven goal of reducing the agency’s total workforce by 2,000 employees between 2006 and 2011. Although the committee appreciates NASA’s need to operate within a constrained budget, it is concerned that such substantial reductions could result in the agency losing needed trained personnel. Without a carefully planned strategy for determining the agency’s personnel needs and how it will achieve them, NASA could inflict damage on itself during this reduction. The chapters that follow examine the basis for these concerns in more detail.


The NASA Authorization Act of 2005 calls for a balanced scientific program that includes all of the research disciplines cited here, but a 2006 NRC report, Assessment of Balance in NASA’s Science Programs (The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.), calls into question whether NASA’s current plans can sustain an overall program that is balanced and healthy.


NASA, Office of Program Analysis and Evaluation, Systems Engineering and Institutional Transitions Study, Final Report, April 5, 2006.

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