In developing the Strategic Plan, we assessed how domestic and foreign policy priorities and political and public support have changed in the post–Cold War era. This assessment provided the basis for key assumptions that have been factored into our program strategies. Our annual review process will include a reassessment of the dynamic business and political environment in which we operate to ensure that our assumptions and strategies remain valid.

Domestic Policy

Domestic policy priorities are being adjusted in light of the Federal deficit, constrained budgets, and the need to maintain America's vitality and competitiveness. The Administration has placed a priority on supporting and promoting high technology for economic growth through effective partnerships, both within Government and with industry and academia. Therefore, NASA will work closely with other Federal agencies to ensure coordinated efforts in the areas of space and aeronautics science and technology. With increased emphasis on pressing domestic needs, we will ensure the relevance of our programs to national science and technology priorities and to other domestic goals in areas such as the environment, health, education, and aviation safety.

The National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 (Space Act) established NASA and laid the foundation for its mission. It directs NASA to conduct space activities devoted to peaceful purposes for the benefit of all humankind. We are to preserve the leadership of the United States in aeronautics and space science and technology, and we are to expand knowledge of the Earth and space. We are to conduct human activities in space. We are to encourage the fullest commercial use of space. Furthermore, we are to cooperate with other nations and are directed to widely communicate the results of our efforts.

Two Presidential policy statements also shape NASA's activities in space and aeronautics. The top-level goals of these policies are displayed below. The complete documents, which are aligned with this Plan, can be accessed as indicated in Appendix 3.

First, the President's National Space Policy defines the following goals:

  • Enhance knowledge of the Earth, the solar system, and the universe through human and robotic exploration;

  • Strengthen and maintain the national security of the United States;

  • Enhance the economic competitiveness and the scientific and technical capabilities of the United States;

  • Encourage State, local, and private investment in, and use of, space technologies; and

  • Promote international cooperation to further U.S. domestic, national security, and foreign policies.

The National Space Policy also provides guidelines designating NASA as the lead agency for research and development in civil space activities. NASA, in coordination with other departments and agencies, is to focus its research and development efforts in: space science to enhance knowledge of the solar system, the universe, and fundamental natural and physical sciences; Earth observation to better understand global change and the effect of natural and human influences on the environment; human space flight to conduct scientific, commercial, and exploration activities; and space technologies and applications to develop new technologies in support of U.S. Government needs and our economic competitiveness.

Second, the President's Goals for a National Partnership in Aeronautics Research and Technology includes the following:

  • Maintain the superiority of U.S. aircraft and engines;

  • Improve the safety, efficiency, and cost- effectiveness of the global air transportation system; and

  • Ensure the long-term environmental compatibility of the aviation system.

Foreign Policy

In the post–Cold War era, the foreign policy aspect of the civil space program will focus on a spirit of expanded cooperation with our traditional international partners and the forging of new partnerships. The Administration has asked NASA to play a major role in international ventures with Russia to expand space exploration opportunities and to promote the peaceful uses of technology. There are also increased opportunities for cooperation with developing countries. These new relationships, along with strengthened ties to our traditional partners in Europe, Japan, and Canada, can help reinforce the economic and technological bonds in the new global society. As NASA moves forward with increased levels of international cooperation, it must balance the benefits that will result from joint endeavors with our own national policies and priorities.

Political and Public Support

A commitment from America's political leadership is vital to our success. The President has demonstrated his support for NASA and has indicated that we will play a significant role in the Administration's science and technology agenda and its foreign policy initiatives. In Congress, NASA continues to enjoy significant bipartisan support. Sustained political support will depend on our ability to demonstrate a contribution to national needs and to deliver on our promises.

Public support for NASA's programs has been positive and generally stable throughout our history. Recent public opinion polls continue to indicate solid support for U.S. endeavors in space. A number of recent discoveries and accomplishments have served to increase the level of public interest and support of NASA's programs. These include the possible evidence of ancient life discovered in a meteorite from Mars, exciting images of the surface of Mars from the Mars Pathfinder, dramatic pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope of the birth and death of stars, discoveries of planets around other stars, and images from the Galileo spacecraft of the fractured and deformed icy surface of Jupiter's moon Europa. In the area of Earth science, the SeaWiFS ocean color sensor, developed through innovative partnerships with industry, is providing significant new data about the ocean. In addition, the highly visible long-term missions of NASA astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle and Russian space station Mir have engaged public interest in the challenges of living and working in space. Successful demonstrations of aeronautics technologies to enhance aviation system capacity and safety have also attracted great public attention. Continued public support will depend on our ability to satisfy the Nation's needs and to keep the public fully informed about the results and relevance of our activities.

Key External Factors

We identified the following key assumptions, which if significantly changed could impact our ability to implement this Plan:

  • The current national aeronautics and space policies, national priorities and goals, and our legislative mandates form the basis for the four Strategic Enterprises and their respective goals and objectives. Changes in policies, priorities, goals, and mandates could cause NASA to reevaluate its current goals and structure of each Enterprise.

    • Understanding the Earth's environment and global change will continue to be an important national priority requiring NASA's leadership in space observations and research.

    • Space science will remain an integral part of the national program of basic scientific research.

    • Human activity in space will continue to play a vital role in the Nation's program of scientific and technological research.

    • There will continue to be a viable U.S. industrial and academic base for aeronautics and space activities. NASA technology will continue to be valuable to industry in enhancing U.S. competitiveness. NASA will continue to have a leading role in developing aeronautics technology jointly with other agencies, industry, and academia that will support the safety and efficiency of the national air transportation system.

  • NASA's budget will be consistent with the President's 5-year plan and will remain stable thereafter. Significant decreases in our budget will cause the Agency to reassess its current complement of programs in all four Enterprises.

  • Interagency and international cooperation will be increasingly important in achieving NASA's missions. Failure by participants to honor commitments defined in cooperative agreements could cause NASA to pursue other options to achieve program goals.

  • The International Space Station will be successfully developed, deployed, and utilized as a research platform through a partnership involving Canada, Europe, Japan, Russia, and possibly other nations. The successful development of the International Space Station will support future national decisions regarding human missions beyond Earth orbit. Failure to deploy the International Space Station could seriously impede our ability to achieve our long-term goals of conducting U.S. and international human missions to planets and other bodies in our solar system, as well as understanding nature's processes in space.

  • The Administration and Congress will rely on NASA to buy commercial launch services and, when necessary, to form partnerships with industry to help create new technological capabilities for lower costs and more reliable civil, national security, and commercial access to space. The Space Shuttle will support NASA missions until a new human-rated launch system is developed. NASA's long-term goal to provide safe and affordable space travel to enable research and human expansion relies on the development of a reusable launch vehicle and/or significant improvements to the Space Shuttle.

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