are heavily experience-based, with competence developed as a result of involvement over many years in many projects.

Although the mission operations competencies category is the largest, the committee notes that this competency is relatively easier to fill from NASA’s existing workforce because the agency already conducts mission operations in both the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station programs. In contrast, in the competency areas of program/project management and systems engineering and integration engineering (with a requirement for 250-350 full-time employees), the agency is at a greater disadvantage because it has not conducted significant development of human spaceflight systems in-house in nearly three decades.

Not since the design of the Space Shuttle has there been such a demand or opportunity for the development of major human spaceflight systems. NASA’s most recent human spaceflight development project, the International Space Station, engaged a primary contractor as the systems engineering and integration lead and provided only a limited number of systems engineering and program management learning opportunities for NASA’s workforce, which concentrated on the operational aspects of ISS such as pre-launch integration testing, on-orbit assembly, and flight operations.

To fulfill requirements for expertise in program/project management and systems engineering and integration engineering, NASA will thus be forced either to recruit highly skilled personnel from industry or to use personnel who have less experience than it might desire. The committee heard evidence that the agency has taken both of these approaches.

The committee believes that highly skilled personnel in these categories are key to the successful conduct of projects. As noted in a 2003 Department of Defense report on the acquisition of national security space programs, inadequate systems engineering in the early design and definition stages of a project has historically been the cause of major program technical, cost, and schedule problems (see Box 4.1).3

Other government agencies with missions similar to NASA’s, such as the U.S. Air Force and the National Reconnaissance Office, have also recognized the importance of highly skilled systems engineers as well as the difficulties of developing and maintaining them.4 Based on previous studies conducted for those organizations as well as comments made to the committee during its meetings, the committee concluded that skilled program managers and highly skilled systems engineers are a vital resource.5

The industry-wide requirement for highly skilled program managers and systems engineers is not new; on the contrary, it has been recognized as a problem within the aerospace industry for at least 20 years. Rather than an acute crisis, the requirement thus remains an ongoing challenge. In NASA’s case and for human spaceflight in particular, the challenge is more formidable because of the lack of recent large human spaceflight technology development programs, constrained hiring as a result of the downsizing in the 1990s, and the prospective workforce’s skepticism about whether NASA can offer a long-term commitment to providing challenging work at competitive salaries that will survive a given presidential administration.

The committee notes that identification by NASA, industry, and the national security space establishment of the requirement for skilled program/project management and systems engineers not only underscores the importance of these skill areas, but also highlights the difficulty that NASA faces in obtaining them—the agency must compete with industry and DOD for employees that those sectors also value highly.


Department of Defense (DOD), Report of the Defense Science board/Air Force Scientific Advisory Board Joint Task Force on Acquisition of National Security Space Programs, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, DOD, Washington, D.C., 2003.


During presentations before the Air Force Studies Board in January 2007, several Air Force and NRO officials spoke about the difficulties of conducting systems engineering for national security space programs. The presenters included Roberta M. Ewart, “The Counterspace Architecting Process: Briefing to the National Research Council,” January 9, 2007; Colonel James Horejsi, “Applying Systems Engineering to Pre-Milestone A Activities,” January 8, 2007; and Major General Mark Shackelford, “Thoughts on Systems Engineering,” January 8, 2007. The Air Force in particular faces difficulties in maintaining these skills in-house and has lost many of them to industry.


Gen. Thomas S. Moorman, Jr., U.S. Air Force (retired), testimony before the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, May 15, 2001; John Williams, Booz Allen Hamilton, presentation to NRC Workshop on Meeting the Workforce Needs for the National Vision for Space Exploration, January 23, 2006; Report of the Defense Science Board/Air Force Scientific Advisory Board Joint Task Force on Acquisition of National Security Space Programs, May 2003, Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, available at

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