Recommendation: NASA should work with other U.S. government agencies with responsibilities in aeronautics and space to more effectively and efficiently coordinate U.S. aeronautics and space activities.

Conclusion: The NASA field centers do not appear to be managed as an integrated resource to support the agency and its strategic goals and objectives.

Conclusion: Legislative and regulatory limitations on NASA’s freedom to manage its workforce and infrastructure constrain the flexibility that a large organization needs to grow or shrink specific scientific, engineering, and technical areas in response to evolving goals and budget realities.


Although the committee carefully analyzed NASA’s current strategic plan, as well as previous ones, it ultimately concluded that the strategic planning process is affected more by what happens outside the agency than by any process inside NASA. The lack of a national consensus on what NASA should do constrains NASA’s ability to plan and to operate.

The committee recognizes that it lacked the capability and time to conduct a detailed supporting analysis and to make specific recommendations for changes in the current NASA infrastructure. However, the committee offers a path forward for NASA to follow, in close collaboration with the President and Congress.


Recommendation: With respect to NASA centers:


•   The administration and Congress should adopt regulatory and legislative reforms that would enable NASA to improve the flexibility of the management of its centers.

•   NASA should transform its network of field centers into an integrated system that supports its strategic plan and communications strategy and advances its strategic goals and objectives.

Today it is common to declare that all future human spaceflight or large-scale Earth and space science projects will be international. Many U.S. leaders also assume that the United States will take the lead in such projects. However, American leadership in international space cooperation requires meeting several conditions. First, the United States has to have a program that other countries want to participate in, and this is not always the case. Second, the United States has to be willing to give substantial responsibility to its partners. In the past, the approach of the United States to international partnership has too often been perceived as being based on a program conceived, planned, and directed by NASA. Third, other nations must be able to see something to gain—in other words, a reason to partner with the United States. Finally, the United States has to demonstrate its reliability and attractiveness as an international partner.

The capabilities and aspirations of other nations in space have changed dramatically since the early days of the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States. One of the most important successes of the ISS was its international character and the role of the United States as the managing partner in a global enterprise. If the United States does seek to pursue a human mission to Mars, such a mission will undoubtedly require the efforts and financial support of many nations.

Recommendation: The United States should explore opportunities to lead a more international approach to future large space efforts both in the human space program and in the science program.


In preparing this report, the committee held three meetings at which current and former NASA leaders, representatives of other government agencies, academics, and historians shared their views of the origin and evolution of NASA and its programs and the issues facing the agency today. The committee

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement