EARTH AND SPACE SCIENCE
NASA has clearly demonstrated the success of the strategic planning process for Earth and space science that is founded on the NRC’s decadal surveys (NRC, 2007; a decadal survey on life and microgravity science [NRC, 2011a] has also been produced for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate). The decadal survey process has matured into a robust method for developing a set of goals and objectives for various programs that are based on a community consensus on an achievable suite of science programs in pursuit of high-priority, compelling science questions. However, even the best strategic plan is vulnerable to severe changes in the assumptions that underlie its development, whether those changes are applied internally or externally. As an example, the recent set of surveys on astronomy and astrophysics (NRC, 2010) and planetary science (NRC, 2011b) were based on budget projections provided to the relevant decadal committees, and now these projections exceed the current budget as well as current budget projections. Rising costs associated with increasingly complex missions, declining science budgets, international partnerships that fell apart, and mission cost overruns have strained science budgets to their breaking point. As a result, key decadal priorities in astrophysics, planetary science, and Earth science will not be pursued for many years, or not at all. The carefully crafted strategic planning process, with its priority setting and consensus building, which has led in the past to the United States leading the world with science missions such as the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars and the Hubble Space Telescope, is now in jeopardy because it no longer may lead to a tangible program outcome.
The NASA aeronautics program has made important contributions to national priorities related to the U.S. air transportation system, national defense, and those portions of the space program that include flight through Earth’s atmosphere. However, the budget for NASA’s aeronautics program shrank significantly in the 2000-2010 decade, and the full historically demonstrated potential of the aeronautics program is not being achieved given the current levels of funding. During the course of its deliberations, the committee did not hear a clear rationale for the overall decline in NASA aeronautics spending during the past 15 years.
Because of the unique nature of most of its missions, NASA has had a number of very specific technological requirements in areas ranging from expendable and reusable launch vehicles to deep-space propulsion systems to radiation protection for astronauts, and much more. The recently established Space Technology Program has carried out a roadmapping and priority-setting strategic planning process for such technologies, assisted by the NRC, but the program is yet to be funded at the levels requested by the President’s budget.
BUDGETS AND BALANCE
The funding for NASA’s total budget has been remarkably level in constant-year dollars for more than a decade. However, there has been some instability at the programmatic level, and the out-year projections in the President’s budget are unreliable, which makes it difficult for program managers to plan activities that require multi-year planning. Put another way, although the budget may have been level over time, NASA experienced substantial program instability over the same period. Numerous times the agency initiated new programs with the expectation that budgets would increase to support them (a basic