In 1973 the provisions for the National Aeronautics and Space Council, which was set up in 1958 to coordinate among the nation’s space and aeronautics agencies while contributing to the national space policy, was deleted from the National Aeronautics and Space Act along with its functions after President Nixon abolished the council in an executive reorganization plan. This body was later resurrected as the National Space Council in the 1989 NASA Authorization Act. The council was used by President George H.W. Bush, but Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama neither funded nor staffed the National Space Council.
In 1984 Earth science was formally added as one of NASA’s objectives. In addition, the act was modified to mandate that NASA “seek and encourage, to the maximum extent possible, the fullest commercial use of space.”
In 1990, NASA support of the commercial use of space was strengthened by the addition of requirements that NASA “encourage and provide for Federal Government use of commercially provided space services and hardware, consistent with the requirements of the Federal Government.”
Throughout its history, NASA has continually modified the statements of its vision and mission. It is not clear whether these changes reflected substantive changes in the evolution of NASA’s strategic thinking over time or simply reflected other, less substantial issues. In any event, a comparison of the different statements over time reveals some interesting changes. Consider the following statements of the agency’s “vision”:
• 1986: NASA’s vision is to be at the forefront of advancements in aeronautics, space science, and exploration.
• 1992: NASA is committed to the future. As explorers, pioneers and innovators, we boldly expand frontiers in air and space to inspire and serve American and to benefit humanity.
• 1994-2000: NASA is an investment in America’s future. As explorers, pioneers, and innovators, we boldly expand frontiers in air and space to inspire and serve America and to benefit the quality of life on Earth.
• 2003: To improve life here, To extend life to there, To find life beyond.
• 2006: To advance U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests through a robust space exploration program.
• 2011: To reach for new heights and reveal the unknown, so that what we do and learn will benefit all humankind.
A comparison of these statements shows that “air” or “aeronautics” has not been explicitly mentioned in the vision since 2000. Science has not been explicitly mentioned since 1986, when the vision mentioned aeronautics, space science, and exploration. The shortest of the visions, from 2003, succinctly encapsulates what NASA does, but, like the current one, does not explicitly mention aeronautics, science, or space, and is not easily identified as a NASA-unique vision.
NASA mission statements have likewise evolved over time:
• 1994-2000: The NASA mission is to:
— Explore, use, and enable the development of space for human enterprise.
— Advance scientific knowledge and understanding of the Earth, the solar system, and the universe and use the environment of space for research.
— Research, develop, verify, and transfer advanced aeronautics, space, and related technologies.