NASA’S STRATEGIC DIRECTION
AND THE NEED FOR A NATIONAL CONSENSUS
Committee on NASA’s Strategic Direction
Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences
NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS 500 Fifth Street, NW Washington, DC 20001
NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.
This study is based on work supported by Contract NNH10CC48B between the National Academy of Sciences and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the agency that provided support for the project.
Cover: Design by Tim Warchocki. Image of the Carina Nebula captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, courtesy of NASA, ESA, and M. Livio, the Hubble Heritage Team and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team (STScI). Back Cover: NASA Global Hawk courtesy of NASA/Lori Losey.
International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-31354-4
International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-31354-6
Copies of this report are available free of charge from:
Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences
National Research Council
500 Fifth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001
Additional copies of this report are available from the National Academies Press, 500 Fifth Street, NW, Keck 360, Washington, DC 20001; (800) 624-6242 or (202) 334-3313; http://www.nap.edu.
Copyright 2012 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine
The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone is president of the National Academy of Sciences.
The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. Charles M. Vest is president of the National Academy of Engineering.
The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg is president of the Institute of Medicine.
The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone and Dr. Charles M. Vest are chair and vice chair, respectively, of the National Research Council.
COMMITTEE ON NASA’S STRATEGIC DIRECTION
ALBERT CARNESALE, University of California, Los Angeles, Chair
RONALD M. SEGA, Colorado State University and Ohio State University, Vice Chair
MARK R. ABBOTT, Oregon State University
JACQUES E. BLAMONT, Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales
JOHN C. BROCK, Northrop Grumman Space Technology (retired)
ROBERT L. CRIPPEN, Thiokol Propulsion Group (retired)
JOSEPH S. HEZIR, EOP Group, Inc.
ANN R. KARAGOZIAN, University of California, Los Angeles
MARK J. LEWIS, Institute for Defense Analyses Science and Technology Policy Institute
MARCIA S. SMITH, Space and Technology Policy Group, LLC
MICHAEL S. TURNER, Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, University of Chicago
WARREN M. WASHINGTON, National Center for Atmospheric Research
DWAYNE A. DAY, Senior Program Officer, Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board, Study Director
MICHAEL H. MOLONEY, Director, Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board and Space Studies Board
ALAN C. ANGLEMAN, Senior Program Officer, Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board
DAVID H. SMITH, Senior Program Officer, Space Studies Board
CATHERINE A. GRUBER, Editor, Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board and Space Studies Board
AMANDA R. THIBAULT, Research Associate, Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board
ANDREA M. REBHOLZ, Program Associate, Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board
LINDA WALKER, Senior Program Assistant, Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board
DANIELLE PISKORZ, SSB Lloyd V. Berkner Space Policy Intern
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is widely admired for astonishing accomplishments since its formation in 1958. These include, for example, setting the (still-standing) world speed record for a piloted aircraft (1967), landing 12 humans on the Moon and returning them safely to Earth (1969 to 1972), exploring all giant planets with Voyager (launched in 1976, still operating), launching the (still-operating) Hubble Space Telescope (1990), establishing the International Space Station (2010), and achieving the soft-landing on Mars of an automobile-sized robotic rover (2012). These missions and many others have dramatically changed our understanding of our universe, our solar system, and our planet. This list constitutes only a small sample of NASA successes over its half-century history.
Looking ahead over a comparable period of time, what can the United States and the world expect of NASA? What will be the agency’s goals and objectives, and what will be the strategy for achieving them? More fundamentally, how and by whom will the goals, objectives, and strategy be established and subsequently modified to reflect changes in science, technology, national priorities, and available resources?
In late 2011, Congress directed the NASA Office of Inspector General to commission a “comprehensive independent assessment of NASA’s strategic direction and agency management.” Subsequently, NASA requested that the National Research Council (NRC) conduct this independent assessment. In the spring of 2012, the NRC Committee on NASA’s Strategic Direction was formed and began work on its task. (The full statement of task appears in Appendix A.)
The committee was charged to address the evolution of NASA’s goals, objectives, and strategies, including in particular those set forth in the 2011 NASA Strategic Plan; the relevance of NASA’s strategic direction to achieving national priorities; the viability of NASA’s plans in the context of constrained budgets consistent with continuing deficit reduction; the appropriateness of resource allocations among NASA’s various programs; NASA’s organizational structure and potential changes to improve efficiency and effectiveness; and ways in which NASA could establish and effectively communicate a common unifying vision of the future that encompasses the agency’s full array of missions. It is worth noting that the committee was not asked to opine on what should be NASA’s goals, objectives, and strategy. Neither was it expected to provide a comprehensive summary of past work that was relevant to NASA’s strategic direction. Rather, the committee was asked for recommendations on how the goals might best be established and communicated, and that is indeed the focus of this report.
The 12-member committee met as a group five times—three meetings in Washington, D.C.; one in Irvine, California; and one in Los Angeles, California. (See Appendix B for a list of meetings and site visits.) At these meetings, the committee was informed by presentations and materials provided by a number of current and former NASA officials, by officials from other relevant U.S. government agencies, by non-government experts on space policy, and by representatives of the U.S. aerospace industry.
In addition, each of NASA’s 10 field centers was visited by members of the committee who met with each center’s leadership and with groups of employees. The committee also received almost 800 inputs from various stakeholders and the general public by means of a Web-based system for soliciting and receiving comments.
All of this, plus the committee’s deliberations on the substance of its potential findings, conclusions, and recommendations, and on the text of this consensus report, was accomplished over a period measured in months rather than years. I want to express my appreciation to the vice chair of the
committee, Ron Sega, and to our fellow committee members for the time, effort, and expertise they brought to this intense, expedited study. Their dedication to this project stems largely from their enthusiastic appreciation of the importance of the nation’s aeronautics and space programs.
Essential contributions to this effort were made by knowledgeable and skilled members of the NRC staff. Dwayne Day and Michael Moloney played central roles in organizing, supporting, and contributing to the study. Alan Angleman, David Smith, Amanda Thibault, Danielle Piskorz, and Andrea Rebholz also made important substantive contributions, and Linda Walker provided valuable administrative support. I am grateful to all.
Albert Carnesale, Chair
Committee on NASA’s Strategic Direction
Acknowledgment of Reviewers
This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the Report Review Committee of the National Research Council (NRC). The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We wish to thank the following individuals for their review of this report:
Wanda M. Austin, The Aerospace Corporation,
Vinton G. Cerf, Google, Inc.,
Mary Lynne Dittmar, Dittmar Associates, Inc.,
Thomas R. Gavin, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology,
David Goldston, Natural Resources Defense Council,
Martin Kress, Von Braun Center for Science and Innovation,
Jonathan I. Lunine, Cornell University,
Thomas S. Moorman, Jr., Booz Allen Hamilton,
Gregory H. Olsen, GHO Ventures, LLC,
George H. Rieke, University of Arizona, and
Richard H. Truly, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (retired).
Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations, nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Martha P. Haynes, Cornell University, and Louis J. Lanzerotti, New Jersey Institute of Technology. Appointed by the NRC, they were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institution.