Office of Space Science


Humans have a profound and distinguishing imperative to understand our origin, our existence, and our fate. For millennia, we have gazed at the sky, observed the motions of the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars, and wondered about the universe and the way we are connected to it. The Space Science Enterprise serves this human quest for knowledge. As it does so, it seeks to inspire our Nation and the world, to open young minds to broader perspectives on the future, and to bring home to every person on Earth the experience of exploring space.

The mission of the Space Science Enterprise is to solve mysteries of the universe, explore the solar system, discover planets around other stars, search for life beyond Earth; from origins to destiny, chart the evolution of the universe and understand its galaxies, stars, planets, and life.

In pursuing this mission, we develop, use, and transfer innovative space technologies that provide scientific and other returns to all of NASA's Enterprises, as well as globally competitive economic returns to the Nation. We also use our knowledge and discoveries to enhance science, mathematics, and technology education and the scientific and technological literacy of all Americans.

<I>Star birth in the Eagle Nebule as revealed by the Hubble Space Telescope</I> Star birth in the Eagle Nebule as revealed by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Questions to Address

In accomplishing its mission, the Space Science Enterprise addresses most directly the following NASA fundamental questions:

  • How did the universe, galaxies, stars, and planets form and evolve? How can our exploration of the universe and our solar system revolutionize our understanding of physics, chemistry, and biology?

  • Does life in any form, however simple or complex, carbon-based or other, exist elsewhere than on planet Earth? Are there Earth-like planets beyond our solar system?


The four long-term goals of the Space Science Enterprise are as follows:

  • Establish a virtual presence throughout the solar system, and probe deeper into the mysteries of the universe and life on Earth and beyond—a goal focused on the fundamental science we will pursue;
  • Pursue space science programs that enable and are enabled by future human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit—a goal exploiting the synergy with the human exploration of space;
  • Develop and utilize revolutionary technologies for missions impossible in prior decades—a goal recognizing the enabling character of technology; and
  • Contribute measurably to achieving the science, mathematics, and technology education goals of our Nation, and share widely the excitement and inspiration of our missions and discoveries—a goal reflecting our commitment to education and public outreach.

Changes in solar activity affect Earth in many ways. These 12 x-ray images between 1991 and 1995 demonstrate the Sun's variability. X-ray images

Strategies and Outcomes

The Space Science Enterprise pursues the study of origins, as well as studies of the evolution and destiny of the cosmos, by establishing a continuum of exploration and science. It creates a virtual presence in the solar system, exploring new territories and investigating the solar system in all its complexity. It simultaneously probes the universe to the beginning of time, looking ever deeper with increasingly capable telescopes, scanning the entire electromagnetic spectrum from gamma rays to radio wavelengths. It also sends probes into interstellar space, beginning a virtual presence even beyond the solar system.

The strategy of the Enterprise is to conduct world-class research, to maximize the scientific yield from our current missions, and to develop and deploy new missions within the "faster, better, cheaper" framework of a revolutionized NASA.

Fulfilling one major commitment of previous strategic planning, the Enterprise will complete the deployment of the four "Great Observatories" with the launch of the Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility (AXAF) in 1998 and the Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF) in 2001. Complemen-ting the discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory launched earlier in this decade, AXAF and SIRTF are certain to add to this bounty and help unravel the mysteries of the universe.

With the July 4, 1997, landing of the Mars Pathfinder, a mission of the Discovery series of spacecraft, the Enterprise visibly demonstrated that such "faster, better, cheaper" programs can yield exciting and inspiring achievements as well as a wealth of knowledge. Through programs such as Discovery and Explorer, the Enterprise will continue to accept prudent risk, shorten development time, explore new conceptual approaches, streamline management, and make other changes to enhance efficiency and effectiveness.

A key aspect of our strategic planning is to ensure the Enterprise acquires the advice of the external science community, and in particular the National Academy of Sciences. In addition, there is extensive collaboration with this community, international partners, and other Federal agencies, such as the National Science Foundation, Department of Defense, and Department of Energy, in the conduct of our missions and research. This collaboration is discussed more fully on page 35 of this Plan.

As a visible link to future human exploration beyond Earth orbit, Space Science Enterprise robotic missions help develop the scientific knowledge such ventures will need. At the same time, the Enterprise will benefit from the opportunities human exploration will offer to conduct scientific research that may stretch beyond the capabilities of robotic systems.

To achieve its long-term goal in science, the Enterprise will develop and bring to flight readiness revolutionary technologies in advanced miniaturization, intelligent system, autonomous operations, and simulation-based design. We will bring the same spirit of innovation and change that embodies our flight programs to our Agency-wide responsibility to maintain a vigorous core program of cross-cutting technology development, especially in long-term, high-risk, high-payoff areas.

The public is both an investor in space science research and the ultimate customer and beneficiary. The Enterprise strives to serve the public by clearly communicating its research results and the excitement of space exploration. It supports educational organizations nationwide and seeks to apply the special talents of the space science community to educational improvement. It also strives to transfer technologies to the private sector and to develop strong and lasting partnerships among industry, academia, and Government so that the Nation reaps maximum scientific and economic benefits from its Space Science Program.

Arrow pointing right with the word Roadmap

Roles and Responsibilities

The NASA Centers' primary missions to support the Space Science Enterprise are listed in the table below.

Center Mission
Ames Research Center Astrobiology
Goddard Space Flight Center Physics and Astronomy
Jet Propulsion Laboratory Planetary Science Exploration
Johnson Space Center Astro Materials

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Last Updated: October 30, 1997
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