Issues Affecting the Future of the U.S. Space Science and Engineering Workforce: Interim Report

Status Report From: National Academy of Sciences
Posted: Friday, June 30, 2006

Committee on Meeting the Workforce Needs for the National Vision for Space Exploration, National Research Council

Full report


This report of the Committee on Meeting the Workforce Needs for the National Vision for Space Exploration responds to NASA’s request for an interim report on a study to explore long-range space science and engineering workforce needs to achieve the nation’s space exploration vision, identify obstacles to filling those needs, and recommend solutions for consideration by government, academia, and industry. The report presents a summary of highlights of a January 2006 workshop and a February 2006 committee meeting on the future of the U.S. aerospace space science and engineering workforce, and it provides some preliminary findings with respect to (1) current and projected characteristics of the workforce, (2) factors that impact the demographics of the affected workforces, and (3) NASA’s list of the workforce skills that will be needed to implement the nation’s vision for space exploration, both within the government and in industry. The report also presents initial recommendations that stem from these findings and initial conclusions.

There have been numerous recent studies and assessments of aspects of the future viability of the U.S. science and engineering workforce, including both broad macro-level examinations of the technical workforce across all disciplines and sectors and more focused assessments of the outlook in specific fields, such as aerospace science and engineering. These studies have considered such factors as the increasing fraction of the current workforce that soon will become retirement-eligible and the impact of science and mathematics education in the United States in the face of increasing globalization of industry. Studies that have looked in detail at the workforce for the U.S. space program have expressed concerns about the impact of shrinkage of the workforce during the aerospace industry’s consolidation in the 1990s, competition for students from other technical fields that may be perceived as more exciting or having more growth potential, and a possible shortage of graduates who are eligible to receive clearances to work in areas covered by the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

NASA’s interests in the workforce question were heightened by President George W. Bush’s January 2004 announcement of a new civil space policy that would refocus NASA’s broad range of research and engineering projects toward the human and robotic exploration of the Moon, Mars, and eventually other solar system bodies. This new vision for space exploration specified a phase-out of the space shuttle by 2010 and development of a new human launch vehicle to support human space missions as early as 2014, and a human return to the Moon between 2015 and 2020. NASA is using those new goals to reshape the agency’s workforce in order to better align the mix of skills with the needs for future missions, and to ensure that NASA will have the necessary skills to achieve the new vision. Consequently, NASA sees a need to identify those skills that will no longer be needed, take steps to retrain and reshape the workforce, and be able to provide specific skills that will be needed in the future.

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