Conclusion: The 2011 NASA Strategic Plan (like some prior NASA strategic plans) is broad in scope and vague on details, without a clearly defined plan about how to achieve the agency’s goals and objectives. In addition, the document avoids stating any clear prioritization of the goals described therein. Consequently, the strategic plan, as formulated, does not provide sufficient strategic clarity or the guidance that NASA will require as the agency deals with the technical, programmatic, and budgetary challenges that are likely in the next 10 to 50 years.

The above troubling aspects of the 2011 NASA Strategic Plan render it of little value from the perspective of establishing clear and unifying strategic directions for NASA—the nation’s space and aeronautics agency—or establishing a sound rationale for engaging with the administration and the Office of Management and Budget about out-year funding requirements. The committee also notes that the goals and sub-goals in the strategic plan are not fully supported by NASA’s existing program.

Since the end of the Apollo program in the early 1970s, the human spaceflight program has been much more capability driven than mission driven. For example, the Space Shuttle Program was capability driven, in that it was intended to provide a new capability (low-cost transportation to low Earth orbit [LEO]) that was not tied to any particular mission (see Figure 2.1). The Department of Defense (DOD) spent considerable amounts of money to develop shuttle facilities, particularly at Vandenberg Air Force Base, and planned specific satellite deployment missions for LEO. Similarly, the International Space Station (ISS) is a capability—a laboratory in space whose utilization is beginning only now.


FIGURE 2.1 The April 12, 1981, launch at Pad 39A of STS-1, the first space shuttle mission. SOURCE: NASA.

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