necessary resources to the program and subsequently walled off the resources so that they would be protected.
Inadequate implementation was a second factor cited as having compromised the robustness of the Vision. One speaker noted that, in contrast to the presentation of the Vision as a new direction, there exists today a business-as-usual sense about a program that will be neither affordable nor sustainable. The idea of portraying the Vision as “Apollo on steroids” was cited as being particularly unsustainable. Initially it had also been expected that there would be significant public participation in crafting and executing the Vision, but these expectations have not been borne out. Another speaker commented that the Vision’s “new direction” was also to have included a role for the commercial sector, but that too few opportunities had been provided to this sector. Additional discussion about the potential emergence of commercial space capabilities to support the Vision asked whether these capabilities could develop beyond serving only government (for example, commercial resupply services for the International Space Station) to serve private markets (such as space tourism). A speaker suggested that the “window” for new commercial space transportation companies focused on tourism was a limited window—perhaps 3 to 5 years. That speaker also commented that if the private spaceflight market succeeded, then “everything changes” in terms of the perception of the commercial sector’s role in space. Several speakers were critical of the “go-as-you-can-pay” approach that was a premise for executing the Vision. They argued that such an approach is not realistic or feasible for carrying out complex technical tasks, because such efforts will lack the necessary flexibility to deal with technical developments and obstacles along the way. While the go-as-you-can-pay approach might be useful when initial decisions are being made, that is not the case afterward.
A third factor creating concern about robustness was that NASA is inadequately funded and that it is unlikely that political decision makers will relax the overall funding limits for NASA in the near future. That is, flat budgets are not likely to go away soon. Speakers argued that continued operational costs for the International Space Station, delayed phaseout of the space shuttle, costs of pressing near-term development of the next-generation space transportation system, and unbudgeted operational costs to achieve announced goals will all make the Vision unaffordable.
One consequence of this dilemma, several speakers noted, is that NASA’s programs in space science, Earth science, and aeronautics are being affected in ways that will have serious long-term consequences. One speaker described NASA’s science program as being “in retreat,” citing recent program changes and management turbulence, the effects of which rapidly propagate across NASA and undermine intra-agency, interagency, and international planning and cooperation. Thus, while NASA is still reaping the scientific and public-image benefits from investments in science programs made 10 to 15 years ago, the speaker argued that the “free ride is about to end.” Participants also acknowledged that some of the problems with the robustness and balance in the science program are of the program’s own making, because of the impact of unrealistic past project cost estimates and significant cost growth. Participants from within and outside the scientific community voiced agreement that the scientific community will need to exert leadership and share responsibility with NASA to make tough decisions about controlling the science program costs.
Further discussion of these points was wide-ranging. There was reference to whether a “base realignment and closing” strategy could be used to trim or realign NASA centers, discussion of the difficulty of outsourcing external to NASA centers given consolidation in the aerospace industry (there are too few companies to which to outsource), and the question of whether another aspect of “robustness” might consider whether the nation and its space activities have become too “risk-averse” in willingness to try new technologies or more creative approaches.
In summing up participants’ comments, a speaker noted that there are three essential elements of an endeavor—goals, a strategy to achieve the goals, and the means to implement the strategy—but that for NASA the means are lacking, thereby making the goals “a fantasy.” Citing a 2006 report of the National Research Council which concluded that “NASA is being asked to accomplish too much with too