WASHINGTON -- Without a national consensus on strategic goals and objectives for NASA, the agency cannot be expected to establish or work toward achieving long-term priorities, says a new report from the National Research Council. In addition, there is a mismatch between the portfolio of programs and activities assigned to the agency and the budget allocated by Congress, and legislative restrictions inhibit NASA from more efficiently managing its personnel and infrastructure. The White House should take the lead in forging a new consensus on NASA's future in order to more closely align the agency's budget and objectives and remove restrictions impeding NASA's efficient operations.
"A current stated interim goal of NASA's human spaceflight program is to visit an asteroid by 2025," said Albert Carnesale, chancellor emeritus and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who chaired the committee that wrote the report. "However, we've seen limited evidence that this has been widely accepted as a compelling destination by NASA's own work force, by the nation as a whole, or by the international community. The lack of national consensus on NASA's most publicly visible human spaceflight goal along with budget uncertainty has undermined the agency's ability to guide program planning and allocate funding."
The committee that authored the report was not asked to offer views on what NASA's goals, objectives, and strategy should be; rather it was tasked with recommending how these goals, objectives, and strategies might best be established and communicated.
The report recommends establishing a national consensus on NASA's future with the executive branch taking the lead after technical consultations with potential international partners. The strategic goals and objectives chosen should be ambitious yet technically rational and should focus on the long term, the report says.
To reduce the discrepancy between the overall size of NASA's budget and its current portfolio of missions, facilities, and personnel, the report says, the White House, Congress, and NASA, as appropriate, could pursue any or all of the following four options:
* Institute an aggressive restructuring program to reduce infrastructure and personnel costs and improve efficiency;
* Engage in and commit for the long term to more cost-sharing partnerships with other U.S. government agencies, private sector industries, and international partners;
* Increase the size of the NASA budget;
* Reduce considerably the size and scope of elements of NASA's current program portfolio to better fit the current and anticipated budget profile.
Regardless of the approach or approaches selected, the report recognizes that eliminating the mismatch will be difficult.
Because future human spaceflight or large-scale Earth and space science projects will likely involve multiple nations, the U.S. should explore international approaches to such projects, the report says. To do so, the U.S. must have a program that other countries want to participate in and must be willing to give substantial responsibility to its partners. The U.S. must also demonstrate its reliability and attractiveness as an international partner.
The study was sponsored by NASA. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies. They are private, independent nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter. The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. For more information, visit http://national-academies.org. A committee roster follows.
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Report in Brief
Pre-publication copies of NASA's Strategic Direction and the Need for a National Consensus are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).
NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences
Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board
Committee on Evaluating NASA's Strategic Direction
Albert Carnesale1 (chair)
Chancellor Emeritus and Professor
University of California
Ronald M. Sega (vice chair)
Vice President and Enterprise Executive for Energy and Environment
Ohio State University; and
Professor of Systems Engineering and Vice President for Energy and the Environment
Colorado State University Research Foundation
Colorado State University
Mark R. Abbott
Dean and Professor
College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences
Oregon State University
Jacques E. Blamont2
Adviser to the President
Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales
John C. Brock
Northrop Grumman Space Technology (retired)
Robert L. Crippen1
Thiokol Propulsion (retired)
Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Joseph S. Hezir
EOP Group Inc.
Ann R. Karagozian
Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
University of California
Mark J. Lewis
Science and Technology Policy Institute
Institute for Defense Analyses
Marcia S. Smith
Space and Technology Policy Group LLC
Michael S. Turner2
Rauner Distinguished Service Professor, and
Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics
University of Chicago
Warren M. Washington1
Climate Change Research Section
Climate and Global Dynamics Division
National Center for Atmospheric Research
RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF
Dwayne A. Day
1 Member, National Academy of Engineering
2 Member, National Academy of Sciences