ways of improving the decadal survey process, the committee notes that at the time this report was being finalized, the NRC was undertaking a workshop to identify lessons learned from past decadal surveys, including ways in which they might be improved.
NASA’s aeronautics program budget is currently approximately 3 percent of the overall agency’s budget, hardly reflective of a strategic imperative. Over the decades, the goals for aeronautics have ranged from efficient subsonic fixed-wing aircraft to high-speed civil transport systems to hypersonic airbreathing engines for multiple-stage-to-orbit space access.
The focus of NASA on aeronautics and space dates back to its founding, when the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 transformed the NACA into NASA. The act specified that NASA shall plan, direct, and conduct aeronautical and space activities to increase scientific knowledge; support the development of advanced aircraft; develop and operate advanced spacecraft; consult with the Department of Defense (DOD) and other federal agencies regarding matters of mutual interest; strongly encourage commercial activities in space; and ensure that the United States remains a leader in aeronautics and space. For example, the first launch of a NASA spacecraft is shown in Figure 1.1. The act has been modified by Congress many times over the years, often upon presidential recommendation. This section describes some of the key changes.