The Findings


Each of the major issues addressed by the Committee is examined in this section of the report and, where appropriate, recommendations are offered.


Goals and Affordability

Goals. The National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, as amended, has served this country well and served to establish the fundamentals of America's space program. Much of the mission statement contained therein, despite its origin over 30 years ago, is equally valid today, including:

The Space Act clearly sets forth the basic rationale for today's space program. In fact, however, our original national space effort was to a considerable extent founded on the need to assure national security. The revelation of the advanced state of Soviet technology, reflected in Sputnik, and the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles propelled America's space and advanced military technology efforts for many years. Fortunately, the current world situation is in stark contrast to that which existed in the late 1950s and 1960s. This change is punctuated by events in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, arms control initiatives, and improving international relations in many (but not all) parts of the world.

However, other concerns are replacing the primary military threat to our national well being. These new threats are economic and ecological, and are closely tied to other important issues such as education and energy. From an economic viewpoint, many nations around the world threaten U.S. technological leadership and competitiveness. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Thomas J. Murrin, in testimony before the committee, summarized the situation, stating: "While space missions may uplift our spirits and enhance our prestige, it is economic competition which will ultimately determine our standard of living, the jobs that we and our children hold and, to a large extent, our national security and our international influence. The potential for space activities to enhance our economic progress will directly affect this nation's ability -- and its will -- to continue to be a permanent leader in the world." In these changing times, our space program clearly must be increasingly responsive to our future economic needs.

Another emerging threat that will impact our quality of life arises as a result of abuse of our natural environment. To implement effective and economical solutions to environmental problems, we must first understand them. Observations from space of our changing ecosphere will very likely prove invaluable in this endeavor.

The basic "imperatives" of today's national civil space effort are, therefore, to:

In addition, the civil space program should continue to contribute to the national security and foreign policy objectives of the United States.

Affordability.The affordability of these space goals is a major concern, particularly in the current fiscal environment. Furthermore, we must recognize that it is difficult, if not impossible, to determine the precise cost of certain long- term future space endeavors -- particularly the more costly ones. Uncertainties of yet-to-be-demonstrated technologies alone preclude precision in estimating costs. Nevertheless, long-range programs such as those characteristic of space efforts demand that we be prepared to undertake long- range funding commitments. This has in fact been the case in the past where substantial sums were devoted over reasonably long periods to civil space projects -- as indicated in the following table:

Program Program Development Cost (Billions of 1990 Dollars) Total Program Cost as Percent of 1967 GNP *













Hubble Space Telescope






* Constant dollars in peak funding year

During the peak funding years of Apollo in the mid-1960s (well before the lunar landings), an emerging basis for space program affordability was being established, at least for that time, consisting of approximately 0.8 percent of the Gross National Product, 4.5 percent of the federal budget and about 6 percent of total federal discretionary spending.

Since the sixth and last Apollo landing on the Moon, the NASA budget has declined by each of the above measures. For the past 15 years, it has hovered in the vicinity of 0.2 percent of the GNP, 1.0 percent of the federal budget, and 2.5 percent of total federal discretionary spending.

A number of studies have outlined vigorous space programs, many quite similar to the President's recent initiative. While these programs differ somewhat in content and schedule, they are surprisingly consistent regarding the near-term level of funding required. Based on our own review, we believe that a reinvigorated space program will require real growth in the NASA budget of approximately 10 percent per year (through the year 2000) reaching a peak spending level of about $30 billion per year (in constant 1990 dollars) by about the year 2000. Such a program will:

If a level of funding of about 0.4 percent of the GNP can be achieved by 2000, and sustained thereafter, then a vigorous but controlled civil space program can be pursued. The Committee believes that, given the benefits it provides for the future of this country, the nation's civil space program should receive funding support of this general magnitude.

If the program cannot receive support from the Administration and Congress at this level, then the achievement of goals of the manned exploration program should be delayed, and the magnitude of the Mission to Planet Earth reduced. Continuing to strive for ambitious goals with inadequate resources will only lead to continuing overcommitment. The Committee suggests, therefore, that unless resources on the order of 10 percent real growth, eventually reaching about 0.4 percent of GNP, can be sustained, then a commensurate scaling back of our space goals and objectives must be undertaken in accordance with the priorities described.

More importantly, however, the Committee believes that the progress of any program with the ultimate, long-term objective of human exploration of Mars should be tailored to the availability of funding -- and not to some fixed date for accomplishment. This is not only because we cannot exactly predict costs, or the rate of progress of the revolutionary technology that will be required, but because we must ultimately limit the risk to pioneering astronauts. Clearly, their safety is of greater concern than meeting any challenging, but in truth arbitrary, schedule.

Program Content

For purposes of assessment, the civil space program can be categorized into space science, Mission to Planet Earth, Mission from Planet Earth, technology and launch systems. The following address these topics.

Space Science. American scientists and engineers have used opportunities for access to space to advance human understanding of ourselves, our planet, our solar system, and our universe -- from the discovery of the Van Allen belts to the establishment of X-ray astronomy, from the high resolution photos of the planets, their satellites, and rings to the global weather monitoring and forecasting system, from the growth in a microgravity environment of very large crystals to the age-dating of the Moon with lunar samples, from the detailed mapping of the Earth's polar ozone depletions to the precise measurement of the "Big Bang" residual radiation, from the discovery of the effects of microgravity on bone growth and healing in mammals to direct measurements of million-degree solar system plasmas, and from the discovery of the enigmatic, rare repeating gamma ray bursters to the finding of ancient and active volcanoes on other planets and satellites. These achievements and the understanding gained from them will continue to be one of the most significant products of the nation's investment in the civil space program. The cost of this effort in recent years, has been on the order of 20 percent of NASA's budget (Figure 7).

Charts illustrating Space Science Budget in dollars and as percent of NASA's budget

NASA Space Science Spending
by fiscal year from 1960 to 1990



With so spectacular a set of achievements as a foundation, and with a substantial number of space projects underway, the U.S. space research enterprise should be healthy and flourishing. Yet discussions with researchers within NASA and in the university community reveal that there is significant discontent and unease about what the future may hold for U.S. space research. The reasons for these concerns have been documented in some detail in the 1986 report entitled "The Crisis in Space and Earth Science" issued by the NASA Advisory Council. They include such factors as (a) the widening of research horizons in response to past accomplishments so that there are now more opportunities than can be accommodated by the available resources; (b) the space technology required to support new advances is often more costly and sophisticated than in the past; (c) the growing complexity of interactions between NASA and its larger and more diverse research community; and (d) program stretch-outs, delays and cancellations that waste creative researchers time, squander resources, and decrease flight opportunities. We believe that many of these reasons continue to exist.

An underlying basis for the concern of the research community has been that the strategies, goals, objectives, and programmatic requirements of the research program have not been adequately distinguished from the parallel national objective of placing humans in space.

Mechanisms are needed which alleviate the more serious of these problems so that the talents and capabilities of America's space researchers, both inside and outside of NASA, can be focused on substantive future opportunities. We strongly affirm the central role of research in the U.S. civil space program, hence --

Recommendation 1: That the civil space science program should have first priority for NASA resources, and continue to be funded at approximately the same percentage of the NASA budget as at present (about 20 percent).

We note that this recommendation carries with it the responsibility for the research community and NASA to use these resources in a prudent manner to carry out pioneering research. To do this, the research community must understand and appreciate, as well as participate in, the planning and budgetary process. To facilitate execution of this recommendation, we propose --

Recommendation 2: That, with respect to program content, the existing strategic plan for science and applications research proposed by NASA with input from the science community be funded and executed.

The present strategic plan provides appropriate balance to the research program that must be maintained across the disciplines, as well as across the methodologies for carrying out the research. In particular, an appropriate mix must be achieved among small, medium, and large projects. A trend toward the development of large projects has developed in recent years, driven by several factors. These include the natural evolution in requirements of some research fields and the "new start" process employed by NASA, the Office of Management and Budget and the Congress for initiating projects to carry out research. This latter process sometimes encourages a "piling-on" of research objectives, as well as of researchers, in order to strengthen fiscal justification. An environment needs to be created that will encourage small, fast-paced projects as well as large projects and enable both to flourish.

Research support activities, such as mission operations and data analysis programs, as well as many portions of the advanced technology development program, represent the life blood of civil space research. These activities, together with sub-orbital balloon and rocket projects, are the centerpiece of university professor and student involvement with the civil space program. Such activities encourage substantial numbers of scientists and engineers, beyond those involved in hardware development for major space flight projects, to participate constructively and creatively in the space program.

We conclude, therefore, that Research and Analysis Programs, Mission Operations and Data Analysis Programs, and the Advanced Technology Development Programs should be viewed as equally essential to the overall research program as are hardware projects themselves; that a "fast track" procurement process be devised for such programs; and that the resources allocated to these support activities not be used as "contingency" resources for unexpected problems encountered on large flight projects.

We view the overall management of the research program to be a key part of the responsibilities of NASA headquarters, and consider that the portion of this activity aimed at the outside research and engineering community can be strengthened. Such strengthening includes a reappraisal of the balance between work performed in academia and that performed within NASA itself. At present, the process that allocates and transfers resources to non-NASA institutions can cause the university community to be at a disadvantage with respect to NASA center researchers and center-funded contractors, the later sometimes having "umbrella" type contracts for research support to the centers.

We urge that universities, other organizations, and their investigator teams be used increasingly as "prime" contractors for space research instruments and projects.

We recognize that the implementation of this recommendation will vary from one research discipline to another, as well as from project to project. But we submit that its implementation will considerably lessen the reporting burdens now required of researchers, will relieve NASA personnel of certain routine contract coordination functions, and will place the responsibility for the ultimate success of programs that fall into this category where it should be: squarely with the investigator team.

Mission to Planet Earth. NASA's Mission to Planet Earth includes the Earth Probes series, the Earth Observing System (EOS) and the EOS Data and Information System (EOSDIS) and geostationary platforms. The mission promises a major step in the development of the science and technology of global remote sensing of our planet. The data that will be collected in the program are essential for documenting, understanding, and predicting global change. The enormous benefits of this information to society require that NASA ensure that the program is well designed and efficiently managed. Interagency and international contributions and cooperation will be key factors in the success of the program. Data management is of critical importance, as with most space programs.

NASA planning for EOS as a contributor to the U.S. Global Change Research Program was reviewed by the National Research Council in early 1990 and found to be generally consistent with the scientific requirements of that program. However, the review also notes several issues that remain to be addressed. Our Committee emphasizes the importance of NASA's Earth Probes program, which includes smaller, precursor missions to EOS and missions complimentary to and contemporaneous with EOS. The Committee also emphasizes the importance of adequate funding for the evolution and operation of the EOS data and information system.

As regards design of the Earth Observing System, the Committee supports the concept of simultaneous flight of instruments to address natural processes occurring on short time scales, and to facilitate intercalibration and environmental corrections. This approach leads to the requirement for a large spacecraft -- which is less costly on a per instrument basis. NASA has thus proposed two series of relatively large platforms in polar orbit to implement EOS over a 15-year period.

The NRC report mentioned above generally supports the concept of simultaneity for a group of instruments, the accompanying need for at least one large spacecraft, and the general concept of long-term measurements. But the report also notes that many objectives could perhaps be achieved better and sooner with a series of smaller, independent satellites. Moreover, the Committee notes that the perception remains in the scientific community that the current proposal for a fixed configuration of two relatively large polar platforms may not be ideal for answering important questions yet to be clearly posed. Furthermore, compromises have to be made when many instruments fly on the same platform, and failures can lead to massive loss of data. Continuity and reliability of the data stream also are key factors for understanding global change, as is the considerable contribution of non-U.S. Earth-observing activities.

The Committee sees no reason to disagree with the NRC report, and concludes that the design of EOS must involve a variety of different spacecraft to meet so complex a set of requirements. In the end, a combination of different size spacecraft and surface-based platforms will be needed. Alternative approaches should be carefully examined so that the optimum approach can be selected to meet scientific objectives with continuity, reliability, and affordability. Particular diligence will be required to assure that the complexity of EOS is controlled.

Data from environmental satellites operated by the NOAA, the Department of Defense and EOSAT all provide basic environmental information valuable to the Mission to Planet Earth. NASA's coordination with these ongoing programs is an essential element of the civil space program.

The Committee recognizes that NASA's charter includes the development of new space capabilities, including remote sensing systems for environmental monitoring, but notes that NASA's role in the research and development for operational environmental satellites has diminished in recent years. In our view, this trend should be reversed. We note that EOS and other components of Mission to Planet Earth can serve as a valuable testing ground for pre- operational instruments. Thus --

Recommendation 3: That the multi-decade set of projects known as Mission to Planet Earth be conducted as a continually evolving program rather than as a mission whose design is frozen in time. A combination of different size spacecraft appears to be most appropriate to meet the needs of simultaneity, accuracy, continuity and robustness. NASA also should reestablish research and development in support of environmental satellites to meet NOAA-started requirements. NOAA, for its part, must budget adequately to finance the operational costs of spacecraft and instruments, as well as related day-to-day support activities.

The Earth Observing System combines the characteristics of research and operational missions. The overall importance of the program to the nation and its dual character taken together enforce the need for high-level management attention. Moreover, considering that EOS will be the centerpiece, at least in terms of resources, for the U.S. Global Change Research Program, it is essential that the planning and decision making process encompass the full range of relevant agencies and the federal Committee on Earth and Environmental Sciences (CEES). The large size, broad scope and national importance of the program also suggest that the EOS funding be provided as a line item, separate from other science programs. This overall undertaking demands continued attention at the policy level by the National Space Council.

The Committee believes that a review of the decision-making process for Mission to Planet Earth, including its relation to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, should be carried out for the National Space Council by a group from government, industry and academia, headed by the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The review should consider interagency aspects, the role of the CEES, and international dimensions, and make recommendations aimed at ensuring the success and continuity of the program.

It has been proposed to the Committee that the current civil operational satellites, including NOAA environmental satellites and Landsat, could be operated more efficiently and cost-effectively if aggregated under a single commercial entity (especially when considered on a global basis). In this case, the federal government would access the data it requires and carry out the needed research and development, rather than actually operating the satellites. The international dimension is of clear interest in that it might be possible to develop an international consortium for remote sensing similar to Intelsat or Inmarsat.

Consequently, the Committee urges that the National Space Council, together with OSTP and OMB, undertake a feasibility study to determine if a single commercial entity could provide more cost-effective management for operational environmental and land remote-sensing satellites. The prospects for an international consortium should be evaluated.

NASA's experimental Landsat program was transferred to the Commerce Department in 1983 with the expectation that the operation could be commercialized profitably. Virtually all parties to that expectation now agree, and international experiences verify, that full commercialization of Landsat is not feasible for the foreseeable future.

Moreover, the funding required to sustain the transfer has been subject to an annual threat of termination. Action must be taken to remedy this problem, or the U.S. shall lose both this important data and leadership in remote sensing -- the later already under serious challenge.

Mission from Planet Earth. On July 20, 1989, the 20th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, President Bush proposed that the nation commit to a "sustained program of manned exploration of the solar system," thereby initiating what has come to be called the Space Exploration Initiative (SEI). In his remarks, the President recognized the Apollo program and all those who contributed to it, but also noted the transient nature of that program and the necessity not to be constrained to "brief encounters" in our future space exploration activities. Thus, the Space Exploration Initiative consists of robotic missions to the Moon and Mars, as well as the establishment of permanent outposts (not necessarily continuously inhabited) on the Moon and, later, human exploration of Mars.

At some point, it will be necessary to set a specific date for the return to the Moon and, later, for the initial Mars landing. We believe that such a date can best be established at some future time. There is much planning yet to be done, enabling technologies be developed, key questions to be answered in the area of life sciences, and funding constraints to address. The question might then be asked: "If there is no timetable for the Mars landing, why is it necessary to establish a program and a set of goals at all?" We believe the answer is several-fold. First, any large organization, such as NASA, generally works best when it has an overarching and challenging objective to guide its long-term future. This provides a focus and rationale for the large series of otherwise somewhat disconnected technological efforts which not only enable the eventual program, but also offer the resulting developments to all of our nation's space and non-space activities. Further, the existence of a long-term and evident goal helps make real the work of researchers and technologists -- not to mention helping motivate talented young men and women to join NASA.

It is possible, of course, to conceive of a space program without a long- term vision such as the human exploration of Mars; significant science would still be accomplished and the Earth's environment would still be monitored. But we would lose the jewel represented by the vision of a seemingly unattainable goal, the technologies engendered, and the motivation provided to our nation's scientists and engineers, its laboratories and industries, its students and its citizens. Hence --

Recommendation 4: That the Mission from Planet Earth be established with the long-term goal of human exploration of Mars, underpinned by an effort to produce significant advances in space transportation and space life sciences.
Recommendation 5: That the Mission from Planet Earth be configured to an open-ended schedule, tailored to match the availability of funds.

To respond to this long-range exploration challenge, NASA must establish the framework within which to develop at least six new technology bases and program elements: (1) a modern economical heavy lift launch vehicle; (2) a life sciences emphasis space station; (3) affordable, evolutionary interplanetary transportation systems; (4) automated lunar and Martian exploration; (5) extraterrestrial resource utilization systems; and (6) reliable closed loop ecological life support systems. The planning for this undertaking will be a challenge that will require adequate time and, most important, outstanding human resources. Later in this report we suggest that a new position, Associate Administrator for Exploration, be established. This person, supported by his or her on Conceptual Systems Design team, should be responsible for planning, overseeing and integrating the six new technology bases and program elements required to carry out the Mission from Planet Earth. The first task must be to prepare an evolutionary, flexible long-range plan that starts with 21st Century operations on Mars and works backward to critical initial steps and realistic budgets. Immediate attention must be given to establishing a vigorous now space life sciences program, and eventually to planning for international participation in the Mission from Planet Earth.

Space Station Freedom. We have elected to treat Space Station Freedom as the first step in the Mission from Planet Earth even though it has other valid uses, such as hands-on extended duration microgravity research. The latter may have important impact in the area of competitiveness, potentially unlocking new developments in such fields as materials, electronics and biosciences.

Space Station Freedom has now been in the design and development phase for three years and, if one includes the concept formulation phases, for eight years. Approximately $3.6 billion has been expended on the project to date. Nonetheless, debate continues over its design concept and even its basic purpose. This has been exacerbated by concerns over the ability of the Space Shuttle to support Space Station Freedom. As of October, 1990, the baseline plan for the initial block of Space Station Freedom required 18 Shuttle launches over roughly a four-year period, plus five logistics launches per year once the station is permanently occupied (five flights prior to the completion of the initial block).

Aside from its role in life sciences, it does not appear to the Committee that any manned space station can be justified based solely upon the science it enables -- nor has this been claimed in the case of Space Station Freedom. Microgravity research is a significant and promising field of endeavor, although of unknown potential. It justifies some form of space platform for experimentation, but it is not, of itself, a sufficient justification for a manned space station.

Likewise, we do not find compelling the case that a space station is needed as a transportation node for planetary exploration. First, many promising flight profiles do not appear to require such a node and, second, if they did, the need in our judgment is sufficiently far in the future that we would hardly know today what to ask of such a terminal today.

On the other hand, the Committee holds the strong conviction that if the U.S. is to have any significant long-term manned space program, a space station is the next logical and essential element of that endeavor. The most significant unknowns remaining in manned exploration reside in the area of life sciences. A manned, near-Earth laboratory is, in our judgment, the sensible place to begin addressing these crucial questions which sooner or later must and will be resolved -- by the U.S. or some other spacefaring nation.

The need for the Space Station thus rests squarely upon life sciences experimentation and the development and verification of long duration space operating systems. These, together with its uses for microgravity research and applications are, in our opinion, a more than sufficient justification for a space station. A space station is needed specifically to establish effective strategies to prevent or mitigate the debilitating deconditioning effects on humans of long stays in low gravity fields, and to establish absolutely reliable and efficient life support systems for extended human stays in unforgiving, hostile environments. A space station also can push the development and verification of durable robotic systems to monitor, maintain and repair complex hardware systems in such environments. Finally, a space station can provide essential experience in the effective operation of large, technically sophisticated remote-from-Earth inhabited outposts.

But do this needs demand a space station of the complexity of Space Station Freedom, particularly given the limitation which has been imposed on funds for its development? Our answer, reluctantly, is that they do not. We say reluctantly because one of the most debilitating diseases a space program can acquire is a tendency to keep stopping and restarting in search of the ever elusive ideal solution -- and we are disinclined to contribute to any such process. On the other hand, we concur that a modified design, along the general lines NASA is now considering, is mandatory. Thus, we propose --

Recommendation 6: That NASA, in concert with its international partners, reconfigure and reschedule the Space Station Freedom with only two missions in mind: first, life sciences experimentation (including the accrual of operational experience on very long duration human activities in space) and, second, microgravity research and applications. In so doing, steps should be taken to reduce the station's size and complexity, permit greater end-to-end testing prior to launch, reduce transportation requirements, reduce extra-vehicular assembly and maintenance, and, where it can be done without affecting safety, reduce cost. The planned ninety days may prove an inadequate period of time to conduct so significant reassessment. Such time as is required should be taken.

The Committee believes that, wherever possible, integrated systems should be fully tested and verified on the ground. For example, the habitat and experimental modules should be tested and verified in their furnished and operational mode before launch. Systems that cannot be fully verified in one-g should be tested and verified on orbit before permanent human occupancy.

In addition, an assured crew return capability for use in an emergency must also be operational prior to permanent human occupancy. Finally, reasonable margins in weight, power, crew assembly time, and crew maintenance time must be provided.

Although warranting reconfiguration and probably rescheduling, the Space Station remains, in our judgment, the essential initial building block of the manned exploration program.

The next goal for the manned exploration program is the establishment of permanent (although not necessarily continually inhabited) outposts on the Moon. This step is needed to learn how to live and work on the surface of an alien planet, but will also provide opportunities for geological and astronomical research. Particularly important will be the testing of habitats, closed ecological life support systems, and remote space-rated power plants; learning to process and use indigenous materials; observing the effects of living in extreme heat, cold and dust in low-gravity fields; and developing reliable systems to provide radiation protection and surface mobility for humans and robots through 300 hour-long days and nights.

The moon's surface contains records of the ancient bombardment phase of planetary evolution in the solar system. Its cratered surface can tell us much about the Earth during the formative stages of the atmosphere and oceans. Erosion and plate tectonics have erased almost all evidence of this era from our planet. Lunar mineralogy, geochemistry, ant stratigraphy on the front and far side of the Moon, with its diverse lava flows and mass concentrations, are fertile fields for research in comparative planetology. The Moon's relationship to the Earth while our planet was forming may be discernable on the Moon. Many serendipitous discoveries will almost certainly be made, perhaps similar to the finding of meteorites in Antarctica.

While substantial knowledge has been gained about the Moon and Mars over the history of space exploration, unknowns still pose questions and potential risks to intensive human exploration, unknowns such as the high latitude geography of the Moon, the concentration of water and useful minerals in Mars soil, etc. Some robotic reconnaissance or prospector missions will need to be defined and executed prior to manned explorations. There are also life sciences and space physics missions that may be necessary. Thus we propose --

Recommendation 7: That technology be pursued which will enable a permanent, possible man-tended outpost to be established on the Moon for the purposes of exploration and for the development of the experience base required for the eventual human exploration of Mars. That NASA should initiate studies of robotic precursor missions and lunar outposts.

Interplanetary Transportation. Eventually it will be necessary to provide affordable transport to the Moon that can evolve later to extended space flight to Mars. A NASA sponsored "Synthesis Group" is currently investigating alternatives for these missions. Candidate conceptual system designs include automated electric propulsion/aerobraking cargo carriers, and modular space-based transfer vehicles with hydrogen-oxygen engines and aerobraking shields. Economical cargo transport beyond Earth orbit also is in prospect using low thrust, high specific impulse solar or nuclear thermal propulsion systems -- with the propulsion-energy generators adding to the useful delivered payloads.

Exploration Bases. The lunar program will be needed to gain experience in establishing and operating bases on remote bodies and to eventually understand how to live and work on the surface of an alien planet. Lunar and Martian habitation will also call for improved space suits; solar and nuclear electric generators in the 10 to 100 megawatt range; decentralized computers; automated plants to process indigenous materials; robotic construction machinery; and transportation and communication facilities. Lunar base prototype systems should be designed for adaptability to Martian conditions.

Closed Loop Ecological Life Support. New, closed ecological life support systems (CLESS) will be necessary to sustain people living in extraterrestrial bases. Air and water must be recycled, and nourishing food produced within automated closed-cycle support systems. Air and water recycling is relatively straightforward, but little is known about constructing reliable biospheres that can be depended upon for continuous automated production of food and organic materials, and the removal of toxins and contaminants. This in an excellent field for US-USSR cooperative effort involving multi-disciplinary government and university laboratories. Of all the critical elements for long duration space flight, closed ecological systems remain among the least understood, and the most challenging.

Space Technology. Unlike research, which seeks new knowledge, technology is concerned with the application of that knowledge to useful purposes. The development of advanced technology is thus crucial to the success of the exploration and exploitation of space -- whether human or robotic. Since NASA is a major consumer of space products, NASA bears part of the responsibility to assure the viability of the technology base upon which to build the missions of the future.

The serious technological challenge for NASA at the present time does not relate to issues of invention or creativity, but rather to the difficult sequence of taking an invention and turning it into an engineered component, testing its suitability in space; and then incorporating it into a spacecraft system. In its early years, NASA managed this "technology insertion" phase particularly well. But there is a widely-held opinion that although NASA continues to do excellent research, both in its centers and in its affiliated universities, the results of this work are not being efficiently transferred into applications -- a fault, it must be said, that is shared with U.S. industry at large. A prime responsibility of the NASA technology development activity must be to bridge the gap between technology concepts and application to space practice. Prototype developments can be particularly important in this regard.

Unfortunately, NASA has not been permitted to sustain an adequate level- of-effort program in space technology due in recent years to externally imposed budget reductions (Figure 8). We believe that this is a consequence of a lack of appreciation of the key role that technology development plays in enabling future missions, reducing future systems' costs and increasing America's competitiveness. It has, of course, been suggested from time to time that the budget for these activities is not spent effectively. Moreover, since most of the funding is expended within NASA, the university or industry constituency to provide political support for the program is limited. Both of these concerns can be alleviated if technology development programs are made competitive, such that they involve the best talent wherever it may reside -- including in other government agencies where appropriate. In any event, this under investing trend must be reversed. If the nation is to successfully undertake challenging space initiatives in the future, we must reestablish our technology base today.

Among the more critical technology topics that must be pursued are propulsion and aerodynamics including flight evaluations, advanced rocket engines that do not detrimentally impact our environment, aerobraking for orbital transfer, long duration closed ecosystems and life support systems, nuclear-electric space power, space tethers and artificial gravity, automation and robotics, information management systems, sensors, electric power generation, radiation protection and materials and in-space materials processing.

Technology development can be considered in three phases, each of which warrants attention. The first is advanced and/or generic technology that may have broad applicability, such as innovations in data management and storage. The second is technology tied to specific programs, such as nuclear propulsion for the exploration program. The third consists of flight qualification of new technology. Each of these aspects needs to be handled in a different manner.

NASA  Space Technology Spending by fiscal year from 1960 to 1990

NASA Space Technology Spending
by fiscal year from 1960 to 1990

In particular, we believe that technology which may have generic applicability should be developed under the auspices of the Associate Administrator responsible for advanced technology. The accompanying planning effort should involve other appropriate Associate Administrators having responsibilities for major future missions. These concerns lead us to --

Recommendation 8: That NASA, in concert with the Office of Management and Budget and appropriate Congressional committees, establish an augmented and reasonably stable share of NASA's total budget that is allocated to advanced technology development. A two- to three-fold enhancement of the current modest budget seems not unreasonable. In addition, we recommend that an agency-wide technology plan be developed with inputs from the Associate Administrators responsible for the major development programs, and that NASA utilize an expert, outside review process, managed from headquarters, to assist in the allocation of technology funds.

On a related issue, the Committee is particularly concerned over the low priority that has been given to the development of the life support technologies, and to the fundamental medical aspects of long duration space flight by humans. The scientific community and NASA are now in substantial agreement as to the steps that must be taken to redress this shortcoming. However, responsibility for the conduct of research on these issues, which could affect the fundamental feasibility of space exploration by humans, currently is split between the Office of Space Science and Applications and the Office of Aeronautics, Exploration and Technology -- as well as between two principal centers and several supporting centers. Such fragmentation is debilitating to what should be an urgent and focused research and development program. All flight-related life sciences research that is pursued should be considered technology development, and treated as such within the NASA organizational structure.

The Associate Administrator for Exploration suggested later should be given the authority and responsibility for space human biology activities. Further, we advise that work in this important area be consolidated as far as possible into a single center, with research being contracted on a competitive basis wherever feasible.

Space Infrastructure

Space Transportation Systems.
The most fundamental building block without which there can be no future space program is the transportation system which provides our access to space. All spacecraft and mission architectures are constrained by the characteristics of the vehicles that lift them into orbit. When things are going well in space transportation, the space program seems to flourish; when space transportation is troubled, the entire space program languishes and any other error seemingly is magnified.

The Committee finds that the most significant deficiency in the nation's future civil space program is an insufficiency of reliable, flexible and efficient space launch capability. The nation now needs to move ahead and attain a more robust launch capability.

Along with its impressive and unique capabilities, the Space Shuttle has shown itself to be a complex system that is expensive to operate and whose emergence from developmental status has not yet taken place (Figure 9). The presence of the crew adds to its cost and perceived risk. The combination of these factors drives manpower requirements up, complicates payload design, and brings about the high cost of its operation (Figure 10). Planned mission frequencies which are realistic and achievable are considered by the Committee to be essential to cost containment.

chart illustrating the number of planned shuttle launches vs actual launches budget graph of shuttle development cost, operations cost and expendable launch vehicle costs.

The nation is at a critical juncture as we look ahead to consider how future space endeavors will be influenced and limited by what we decide now about Earth-to-orbit transportation. There is general agreement in all recent space transportation studies (e.g. the Defense Science Board and the NASA Advisory Council studies) that the nation needs a new heavy lift launch capability, but no implementing decision has resulted. These reports, combined with our concern about the heavy dependence upon the Shuttle, point to the unalterable need for the initiation of a major national effort to develop a new launch system that can provide a flexible heavy lift capacity. Not only will an evolving space station need heavy lift support, but other missions also will benefit from reduced dependence upon the Space Shuttle.

The first goal for a new Expendable Launch Vehicle (ELV) system should be to augment support of the Space Station. While the Shuttle might carry out some early Space Station deployment, alternative transportation should significantly reduce the cost and risk of that program. The time to make a commitment to this end is now, for the longer the nation delays the building of a new launch system, the greater is the risk that it will embark upon a space station and a subsequent manned exploration program that eventually could prove unsupportable.

There is a range of choices available for a heavy lift vehicle (circa 150,000 pounds to near-Earth orbit). One candidate would be some form of a Space Shuttle-derived ELV, but there are others. At the extremes, a dilemma lies in choosing between starting the heavy lift system design from a "clean sheet," or selecting a design closely related to the current Shuttle (e.g., a Shuttle-C). The later provides an earlier capability with less initial cost, but the former provides an opportunity for the revolutionary design of a completely new launch system incorporating up-to-date propulsion and support system technology. Assessment of the economics, the lack of firm Department of Defense requirements, the need to further define lunar/Mars payloads, the status of advanced launch system technologies, and long propulsion lead times are all important considerations as the choices are weighed.

On balance, the Committee concludes that the prudent choice -- with an eye toward both the Space Station and the long view -- is an approach that begins with a new ELV system that meets the following criteria:

  • Operational capability must be achieved in time to support at least the latter stages of Space Station deployment and relieve its Shuttle dependence as soon as feasible.
  • Launch support manpower must be reduced.
  • Provision should be made for updating with new components as they become available from the joint NASA-DOD Advanced Launch System (ALS) technology development. In particular, the Space Transportation Main Engine should be introduced into the new launch system at the earliest appropriate time.

This should be the first phase of a continuing effort to upgrade Earth-to- orbit transportation. Some time hence, further advancements in lift capability can be achieved when justified by requirements and technical developments. In particular, this second phase should involve ongoing application of technologies developed in the ALS program, and should lead to the design of an advanced launch vehicle and support system of enhanced efficiency and reliability.

The Committee believes that the U.S. should not plan to depend on any foreign launch capability (such as the Soviet Energia, as some have proposed) to support critical U.S. space programs.

The following summarize our conclusions with respect to launch capability --

Recommendation 9: That the Administration promptly establish and fund a firm program for development of an evolutionary, unmanned but man- rateable, heavy lift launch vehicle. This system should reach operational capability in time to support all but the initial phase of the Space Station deployment.

NASA and the Air Force should continue a vigorous Advanced Launch System technology program to support both near-term and follow-on heavy lift requirements. Highest priority in the launch vehicle technology effort should be assigned to the Space Transportation Main Engine (STME). Once a better definition of the lunar and Mars architecture and mission requirements is established, this advanced technology can be infused into a new vehicle design.

In the meantime, because of continued dependence upon the Space Shuttle, NASA should execute its plan to enhance the reliability and safety of this vehicle and to reduce launch costs. The examination already underway of the launch preparation process should be pursued with vigor. Consideration should be given to the possibility that a stable flight rate planning factor including greater margins might, of itself, facilitate the implementation of cost (manpower) savings.

The issue has arisen as to whether NASA should procure another Space Shuttle Orbiter to provide a more robust five-vehicle fleet. The Committee does not support such a procurement at this time. The Committee appreciates that we may lose another orbiter before the proposed new unmanned heavy lift launch vehicle is completely developed, and that this would once again result in a fleet of only three operational Space Shuttles, as has been the case since 1986. But as of the present, we conclude that any decision to procure another orbiter should be deferred and funding for the unmanned launch vehicle given priority. In the meantime, the current NASA practice of procuring structural spares should continue in support of the existing Space Shuttle fleet.

Recommendation 10: The Committee recommends that the procurement of an additional Space Shuttle orbiter, for a five-orbiter fleet operation, not be undertaken at this time, but spares procurement should continue. If an orbiter is lost in the relatively near future, the decision on whether to procure another orbiter should be made in the context of the availability of the new heavy lift launch vehicle and the demands on the remaining orbiter fleet.

Alternate Personnel Transportation. The emergency recovery capability now planned for the Space Station is essential. However, with the exception of the crew recovery system, plans do not now call for a fully redundant personnel transportation capability to assure that manned activity can continue if the Space Shuttle is grounded for an extended period. In light of this situation, the Committee believes a rescue vehicle should be designed and, as a contingency, provision made for expedited development of a two-way transportation capability on a man-rateable ELV for use in the event of a Space Shuttle standdown. Although full two-way capability may be neither affordable nor practical in the near-term, design and development of an emergency recovery system can protect an option for later expansion to provide a two-way capability on an expedited basis. This or some other approach to a redundant personnel transportation, to which NASA could turn in the circumstance posed, is regarded as worthy of attention.

Recommendation 11: That NASA initiate design effort so that manned activity in the Space Station could be supported in the absence of the Space Shuttle. Crew recovery capability must be available immediately, and provision made for the relatively rapid introduction of a two-way personnel transport module on a selected expendable launch vehicle.

National Aero Space Plane (NASP). It would be premature at this point to expect the NASP to play a contributing operational role in Space Station or other orbital support missions for the next 15 to 20 years. Nevertheless, the long-term potential for this unique combination of aerospace technologies could be significant. Use of the hypersonic air-breathing propulsion technique for acceleration of space qualified vehicles as an upper stage from high subsonic to orbital velocities offers altogether new capabilities. Once in orbit, such platforms might dip into the atmosphere and use their aerodynamic properties to generate an orbital plane change, then be boosted back into orbit by the scramjet engine using the atmosphere to supply the needed oxygen.

In spite of the NASP's long-term potential, the Committee generally endorses the view of the Defense Science Board which, in March, 1990, suggested that, at least in the foreseeable future, the NASP's single-stage-to-orbit concept may have been over-emphasized. The more important aspect of this program is its development of air-breathing hypersonic propulsion capability.

Even so, the relatively modest expenditures needed to move the NASP initiative briskly forward towards a technology demonstration flight program with an X-vehicle are worthwhile, given the potential for a major breakthrough capability. This is exactly the kind of revolutionary program NASA should undertake, although we do not assign it high schedule urgency.


We believe that the management hierarchy of the Civil Space Program, within the Executive Branch should be: the National Space Council, to provide policy direction; NASA headquarters, to provide executive management; project offices to provide specific project direction; and centers to offer day-to-day program implementation and supervision of supporting contractors from the private sector and academia.

Various models were examined by the Committee whereby major responsibilities might be shifted from NASA to other organizations, somewhat along the lines of the Department of Defense's Strategic Defense Initiative Organization, government corporations, the Department of Energy Laboratories, etc. With the possible exception of the expanded use of Federally Funded Contract Research and Development Centers, discussed later, the Committee believes that such action would be counterproductive. The fact is that NASA remains the world's greatest repository of space knowledge and experience. Thus, efforts should be devoted to its improvement, not its dismemberment. The Committee concludes --

That NASA should continue to be the nation's principal agent for carrying out its civil space program, under policy guidance from the Space Council, and drawing as appropriate on other government resources and the capabilities of the private sector and academia.

External Oversight. No examination of civil space management issues can consider NASA in isolation, because numerous interfaces exist with other parts of the government, many of which, by law, enable policy direction, funding, management constraints and oversight. Much of this infrastructure has existed since the formation of NASA, including legislative oversight and the existence of a National Space Council, originally mandated by the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958. But 30 years of executive and legislative change have taken their toll on the smoothness of many of these interfaces.

In the heady days of the early space program, with its emphasis on catching and surpassing the Soviet space program, NASA was afforded extraordinary latitude by the Congress. Exceptions were made to the generally applicable civil service regulations to permit NASA to attract and retain the very best of the nation's technical talent. Financial and budgetary controls were designed to give the Administrator the flexibility to operate fast-moving programs, e.g. "no-year" funding. Similarly, the agency was granted important powers for procurement, unfettered by such later controls as, for example, the act which now places stringent constraints on the agency's ability to acquire computer systems.

Executive Branch. Over the years, policy guidance to NASA, and the integration of NASA activities with other technological, scientific, political and national security responsibilities of the U.S. government, have been accomplished in a variety of ways. The management process has now come full circle -- to a new National Space Council, re-enacted in 1988 and implemented by Executive Order on 1 March 1989. Prior to the establishment of this new Council, the policy generation mechanism was a combination of a Senior Interagency Group (SIG- Space) and a working group of the Economic Policy Council -- an arrangement that most considered unsatisfactory.

Various ad hoc groups have wrestled with the matter of setting space policy. One of the more thoughtful recent analyses was conducted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. This study recommended that the NASA Administrator also serve as Director of Civil Space (DCS -- somewhat equivalent to the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) in the intelligence community). While implementation of this proposal would not change the role of the Space Council, it would accentuate the important role the head of NASA could and should perform in assisting with the establishment of overall policy, coordinating vital national security interfaces, and integrating all civil space activities (Figure 11). This arrangement recognizes that virtually no governmental civil space pursuit can succeed without the support and participation of NASA, but it also recognizes the importance of coordination with the space endeavor of other government agencies. Indeed, as applications of space capabilities increase, coordination will become more and more essential.

chart illustrating the percent of the US Civil Space Program Budget that went to NASA, NOAA, DOE and others in 1990

Although the "DCS concept" has many attractive aspects, we do not believe that it has received sufficient scrutiny to warrant endorsement at this time. Instead, we propose it for consideration by the Vice President in his role as Chairman of the Space Council.

We are also persuaded that the membership of the Space Council, as provided for in the Executive Order of 20 April 1989, is sufficiently large that its treatment of many relatively routine issues could be facilitated by the establishment of an executive committee. Hence --

Recommendation 12: That a Space Council Executive Committee, chaired by the Vice President and consisting of the Administrator of NASA, the Directors of the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Secretary of Defense and the Director of Central Intelligence, be institutionalized. Other Space Council principals should participate in the Space Ex-Comm meetings when appropriate, at the invitation of the Chairman. Major issues would continue to be addressed by the Space Council as a whole.

The Committee notes also that, because of the increasing potential for contributions by NASA to America's economic competitiveness, it may be appropriate for the Administrator of NASA to serve as a member (or ex-officio member) of The President's Council on Competitiveness.

Legislative Branch. The Committee believes that space program planning and execution could benefit to a significant degree by refinements in Congressional operations related to program approval, resource allocation and oversight. The evident need for greater program stability could be furthered by more comprehensive Congressional debate backed by more accurate programmatic information (especially cost) prior to the time significant commitments are made -- and then greater diligence, absent substantive programmatic changes, to preserving planned funding profiles. Such intensified initial examination should focus on the specific justification for objectives, affordability, timing, implementation policies and technical risks. Congress should demand clarification of any proposal or element considered inadequately defined and substantiated, and also devote attention to options and alternatives.

We believe NASA should develop a 10-year plan to provide Congress with sufficient information on objectives and implementation approaches to permit sound initial budget decisions. Most importantly, this plan should provide cost information, based on straightforward and understandable assumptions, including the costs of development, launch and operations.

Once a program is approved, however, the Congress can and should help provide program stability through consistent and adequate funding. The successful management of multi-year development programs is extremely sensitive to this continuity. Thus, we strongly endorse the use of multi-year funding and "no-year" appropriations whenever appropriate, to provide program stability and reduce costs.

Internal Management. The Committee recognizes NASA's past effectiveness in mobilizing government-academia-industry teams to achieve a remarkable set of accomplishments over more than three decades. NASA also has been responsive to a considerable flow of external recommendations, some of which were precipitated by reviews following the Challenger accident. With the implementation of recommended "recovery" steps now substantially completed, however, the Committee has viewed its primary responsibility as that of identifying opportunities that will strengthen NASA's management capabilities for the future.

The Committee strongly believes that the internal management structure of NASA is best determined by those having the ultimate responsibility for the Agency's performance. Therefore, we do not offer firm recommendations in this area. Nevertheless, there are a number of observations that we consider worthy of serious consideration by NASA management, and these are offered below.

Headquarters Functions.

Systems Concepts and Analysis. The Administrator and his senior staff have an increasing need for the provision of both policy formation support and independent analyses, not only in the formulative stages of programs but also as an ongoing review function. Increasingly there will be issues that cut across organizational and programmatic boundaries. Thus, particularly in the early conceptual phases of programs, there will be an increased need for systematic reviews of requirements and benefits. The analysis function proposed below should provide the Administrator with independent expertise to generate and asses alternative approaches to program objectives, and to balance these objectives against overall national goals. The existence of this group of perhaps some 30 highly qualified individuals should also stimulate improved planning and program coherence throughout the agency.

It will be difficult to recruit this senior systems engineering and analysis capability entirely from within NASA given the constraints on personnel transfers, and almost impossible to recruit it from outside of NASA due to the constraints of current civil service salary regulations. Accordingly, we propose --

That a Systems Concepts and Analysis Group be formed in the NASA headquarters to serve the Administrator. This group would consist of a small, elite civil service staff supplemented by a new or existing Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC). (Item A.)

Such a center could possibly be affiliated with a university, or not-for- profit institution but an industrial affiliation would not be appropriate under most circumstances. The practices of the Department of Defense in using such centers should be considered.

Independent Cost Analysis. NASA as well as other agencies of the government have been embarrassed from time to time by less than accurate estimates of project costs. The causes are well understood, and include program initiation before enabling technology is proven, overselling on the part of program advocates, both in government and industry, and failure to include all costs when evaluating a program. With programs becoming ever more costly and complex, it now appears to be an appropriate time for the Administrator to have access to a highly skilled and independent cost estimating and analysis capability. Again, top-notch specialized personnel will be required, perhaps 20 in number, but in this case recruitment should not be inordinately difficult. However, this group must be capable of utilizing modern approaches for assessing the costs of complex advanced technology systems manufactured under a variety of management and business strategies. In short, we suggest --

That an independent cost analysis group be formed to serve the Administrator and the Administrator's staff. This group should be charged with the responsibility of providing to the Administrator a recommendation on all significant cost estimates provided to the Congress or to the Office of Management and Budget. Their cost estimating procedures should include contingency analysis techniques. (Item B.)

Exploration. Exploration of the solar system, using both unmanned and manned systems, has been and will continue to be a core mission of NASA. Since the nation's first extra-terrestrial probe, Pioneer IV in 1959, exploration activities have been distributed across various NASA Associate Administrators (Science, Manned Space Flight, etc.) While achieving great success in lunar and planetary exploration, we continue to encounter uncertainties regarding the appropriate use of manned vs. robotic exploration, and the legitimacy of science as a rationale for exploration. In reality, exploration will be a continuum of robotic missions preceding the presence of man, and science will continue to be a strong rationale for exploration -- but certainly not the only motivation. For these reasons, we believe it is time to consolidate the exploration activities of the agency under a single Associate Administrator. We propose, therefore --

That an Associate Administrator for Exploration be established with responsibility for both robotic and manned exploration of the Moon and Mars, the humans-in-space portion of life sciences studies, and technological foundations for manned and unmanned exploration of the Moon and Mars. (Item C.)

Space Station. The Report of the NASA Management Study Group in 1986 recommended that the Space Shuttle and the Space Station be placed under a single Associate Administrator. This was accomplished in the Office of Space Flight. The rationale for this recommendation was the perceived close interdependence between the Space Shuttle and the Space Station. We have concluded that it is time to reassess that decision. Together, these two programs represent 47 percent of the 1991 NASA budget, but they are in very different phases of their program life cycle, demand different management skills, and impose different pressures for attention upon management. Furthermore, while there are indeed important interfaces between the two programs, the reconfiguration of the Space Station should ensure that these interfaces become relatively more straightforward.

As will be noted in the next section, we suggest that operations be separated from development. Accordingly, we propose that the Space Station program be grouped with other space flight developments such as the Advanced Solid Rocket Motor (ASRM), the Alternative Crew Recovery System (ACRS) and the development of a new heavy lift launch vehicle. With regard to Space Station mission requirements, we suggest that the Associate Administrator for Exploration serve as focal point. Thus, it it proposed --

That the Space Station and other space flight development programs report to a NASA Associate Administrator for Space Flight Development. (Item D.)

Space Flight Operations. The conduct of civil space flight operations, and the dominant role of the Space Shuttle, was raised continually during our deliberations by knowledgeable individuals and groups with strong interest in NASA and the national space program. Their comments frequently referred to the consuming effect this responsibility can have on NASA's senior management, limiting the time available for the planning and direction of leading-edge technological developments. A belief also was expressed that the merging of operations into a largely developmental organization does not foster the building of a professional operations cadre which can best manage this vital responsibility. Solutions proposed for this dilemma included the transfer of Space Shuttle operations to some to-be-determined "other government agency," such as a quasi- governmental corporation, or to the private sector.

A clear statement of the problem appears in a 1988 National Academy of Public Administration report entitled, "Effectiveness of NASA Headquarters", as follows: "We have...concluded that the term "operational" as applied to commercial aircraft, to ships, or to mass-produced articles of defense will most likely never apply to space systems in the same context. What we do see, however, are large, complex space systems such as the Shuttle and the Space Station that are or will be largely driven by operational issues -- turnaround time between flights, manifesting, retrofitting of design changes for safety, cost or payload capability purposes, logistics, training of basic and science crew members, and so on. There are not the basic work of research and development leading to new concepts and ideas for future space systems, nor for expanding knowledge of the universe and discerning the implications of that knowledge for life on this planet or elsewhere." The report goes on to recommend an organizational separation, from the top of the agency down, on the two matters of space flight operations and space system development.

We endorse this approach, including the establishment of an Associate Administrator for Space Flight Operations. The responsibility of this individual should include Space Shuttle operations, ELV operations, and the Tracking and Data Systems organization. This Associate Administrator should have the institutional responsibility for injecting operational requirements into new programs to assure that they can be effectively operated over their lifetimes at reasonable cost. At the appropriate time, the responsibility for Space Station operations would also be assigned to this office. It is thus proposed --

That an Associate Administrator for Space Flight Operations be established whose responsibilities initially would include Space Shuttle operations, existing ELV operations, and tracking and data functions. Prior to implementing any such change, a detailed transition plan should be prepared and afforded full safety review and approval. (Item E.)

Current and possible headquarters organizational alignments are summarized in Figures 12 and 13.

figures 12 and 13

Shuttle Operations. Management mechanisms now used to bring senior supervision and discipline to bear on Space Shuttle operations reflect the special emphasis that this has received in the last few years. Although occasional launch delays still occur, a process appears to be in place which surfaces concerns and resolves them. On the other hand, the Shuttle launch operation has evolved into a relatively slow and deliberate process, and we conclude that the laborious and labor intensive methods now employed may become a limiting factor in achieving the planned flight rates. Further, it is not likely that the Space Shuttle will ever emerge from the inherently expensive quasi-developmental stage unless responsibility is eventually moved from a development oriented center to the operationally oriented Kennedy Space Center (KSC). Such a move would appear logical since the maturation of Space Shuttle operations drives the focus of program activities toward KSC as flight rates increase. This transfer of support responsibility to KSC should include the concentration and centralization of as much of the program management from other locations as is feasible, including from headquarters.

Such a major move should be carefully implemented only when a reasonable and regular flight rate has been re-established, but the Committee is persuaded that now is the time to begin planning the process. The ultimate goal should be a safe operation, performed as efficiently and routinely as its complexity permits, and not burdened by excessive layers of management that are the legacy of the development era and recovery from the Challenger accident. Particular attention must be paid to management accountability at each stage of the transfer process. We conclude that --

NASA should begin the deliberate process of planning for the transition of the Space Shuttle from development to a more nearly operational status at Kennedy Space Center with continuing technical support from other centers, and with appropriate certification of safety considerations at each step of the transfer process. (Item F.)

Project Management. There is general agreement that projects should be assigned to, and largely performed by, a single center whenever possible. Nevertheless, there will always be some projects that demand assignment to more than one center because of the size of the projects and the necessity to draw on diverse expertise.

NASA has tried various approaches to this management challenge, ranging from headquarters project management to several forms of lead center arrangements. We submit, however, that day-to-day project management should not be performed from headquarters. It is not a natural function for any headquarters organization; people are not, and should not, be present within a headquarters in adequate numbers to staff such a function; the headquarters skill mix is inappropriate to project management; and the attempt to perform day-to-day project management undermines the critical oversight role that is a proper function of a headquarters staff.

Instead, we propose --

That NASA adopt as standard for the management of multi-center programs, a headquarters project manager and staff located at or near the "Primary Center" involved in the undertaking. A key attribute of such a project office would be its systems engineering capability. (Item G.)

This approach will preserve the integrity of the headquarters supervisory function while providing the project manager with the technical, administrative, and systems engineering support he or she will require.

Center Management. As NASA evolved during the decade of the 1960's, the missions of each center were relatively crisp and their respective capabilities developed into centers of excellence. To a large extent, these roles still exist and in many cases centers of excellence still prevail. But the focus has become somewhat blurred, for reasons that are generally well understood. With the phase-down following Apollo, several centers found their future prospects greatly diminished and sought additional work that could keep their talented staffs employed. As significant competence built up across centers in a variety of fields, diversification was sometimes even encouraged by headquarters program managers seeking competition between centers for new work.

The issue in this case is whether center responsibility overlap is appropriate in disciplines such as astrophysics, Earth sciences, microgravity and life sciences. The answer is no. Such diversification is inimical to a vigorous agency moving into new areas of space exploration. Each element of diversification requires additional (scarce) knowledgeable management, facilities and funding, and represents a corresponding diversion from the center's core mission. Hence --

Recommendation 13: That NASA management review the mission of each center and consolidate and refocus centers of excellence in currently relevant fields of science and technology with minimum overlap between centers. An appropriate balance between in-house and external activity also should be developed.

Internal/External Division of Labor. Over the years, NASA has developed a characteristic management style in the conduct of its research and development activities. Its approach was originally nurtured by the groups from which NASA was formed (primarily the NACA centers and Army space activities) and was institutionalized during NASA's first decade, when external space expertise hardly existed, and an aerospace industry had yet to be developed from airframe companies, their suppliers, and a nascent electronics industry. A supportive academic infrastructure also had yet to be generated. In this period, it was necessary for NASA to perform a great deal of work in-house, and to provide a substantial degree of oversight to the newly formed "space-industrial-academic complex."

We believe that it is time to reconsider this management style, and to identify improvements that are relevant and necessary as the civil space program enters the next decade of research, development and exploration. Clearly, one very important advantage of NASA's approach is the existence of a staff with the ability to "buy smart" by virtue of hands-on experience. But the environment has changed. There is now a large and experienced space- academic community and an industrial base whose skills are broad and deep. The Department of Defense sponsored National Security Space Program is almost twice the size of NASA's program, but operates with only limited in-house laboratory support, and there is now an infant but developing commercial space industry.

NASA's civil service complement has remained relatively constant since the Apollo tail-off. On the other hand, in recent years this staff has been considerably augmented by the use of support service contractors (Figures 14 and 15). Issues that warrant consideration in this regard include: (1) What is an appropriate division of responsibilities between government and support contractor personnel?; and (2) Is such an organizational structure appropriate for NASA's emerging future responsibilities? Management's reassessment of this situation should recognize that some "hands-on" work must be retained as an important part of each center's responsibility. Legitimate functions include the mandate to push the frontiers of space science and technology continuously forward, as well as to train the future managers of large, complex space systems. But this should not be taken to mean that NASA must continue a substantial effort in every space-related field. Rather, NASA should focus its hands-on activities on the relevant emerging and strategic technologies, on tasks not able to be readily pursued elsewhere, and on the oversight of its contractors.

chart depictig NASA's workforce compliment relative to budgetchart of the number of NASA employees relative to fiscal years 1970 to1990

Turning to issues related to procurement, NASA, the national security organizations and various commercial entities all use different approaches to the conduct of this function. No single approach is correct for all situations. The Committee has noted, however, marked differences with respect to the staffing of the procurement operation within NASA. For instance, a typical national security space system will be managed by a program office of some 30 to 50 people augmented with either a Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC), a systems integration contractor for technical and systems engineering support, or a prime contractor from industry. NASA, on the other hand, typically utilizes a corresponding program office which relies on center laboratories for technical support. In general, many more people are involved in NASA's approach, and certainly more government people. NASA technical staff members have remarked that contract oversight duties now consume a disproportionate amount of their time; time that they believe would be more beneficially devoted to hands-on work. Some centers address this concern by instituting a career branch point at which an experienced engineer or scientist can choose between remaining at the "bench," or becoming more involved with management. This approach helps assure a continuum of "smart buyers." However, we believe that--

NASA should concentrate its "hands-on" expertise in those areas unique to its mission, and avoid the excessive diversion of technical or mission specialists to functions which could be performed elsewhere. Contract monitoring is best accomplished by a cadre of professional systems managers with appropriate experience. Increased use of performance requirements, rather than design specifications, will further increase the effectiveness of this approach. (Item H.)

Procurement Policy. The critical issue of federal procurement policy has been addressed repeatedly by numerous panels and commissions for at least a quarter of a century. The Committee concludes that were the findings of these past reports to be implemented, a sufficient basis would be provided for improving the procurement system. Hence, no further detailed recommendations are made here. Worthy of note, however, is the fact that since 1965, more than 60 new procurement-related public laws have been enacted. In addition, 25 Executive Orders, 16 Office of Management and Budget Circulars, and 24 Office of Federal Procurement Policy Letters have been issued, all of which affect the procurement process directly.

With few exceptions, none of these laws, orders or circulars distinguishes between the procurement of routine housekeeping or office supplies and state- of-the-art technology, hardware, or services. Although it was not within the scope of the Committee to judge the merits of these regulations, we were repeatedly advised that their cumulative effect was to lengthen, complicate and increase costs associated with the procurement process. We also noted numerous instances where direction, reports and limitations were included in annual authorization and appropriation acts that targeted the procurement and management processes. Each year such instructions add to the cumulative administrative and cost burdens. We conclude, therefore--

That the Legislative and Executive Branches should review the combined effect of current laws, executive orders and circulars on efficiency of high-technology research and development operations. After review, pilot test acquisitions should be conducted with as many of the non- critical, procurement-related objectives removed as possible. The intent should be development of a more efficient process permitting both swift technical progress and sound business management. The results of the study and the pilot tests should be reported to the President and the Congress. Appropriate actions by the Legislative and Executive Branches should be recommended. (Item I.)

Commercial Programs. At the time of its formation in 1958, NASA was assigned responsibilities extending well beyond the conduct of individual space missions. These responsibilities included enhancing the technical competitiveness of the U.S. in space-related industries, and the transfer of space derived technologies into all appropriate elements of American industry.

The direct application of space technology to the public good and to the economic benefit of the nation's industries began almost at the outset of the Space Age when Tiros I, the first weather satellite, and Echo I, the first communication satellite, were launched in 1960. The communication satellite industry rapidly became an important commercial commodity in the international marketplace.

Recognizing the growing importance of satellites and other possible commercial space products and services to the nation's competitive position, the Administration and the Congress expanded the scope of the Space Act in 1984 to require that NASA, together with its previously assigned duties regarding the development and transfer of space technologies, now additionally "seek and encourage to the maximum extent possible the fullest commercial use of space." The agency is thus charged with actively fostering a commercial space industry in much the same way as its predecessor NACA promoted (and NASA still promotes) the nation's broadly successful aviation industry. The Committee feels strongly the importance of the government's aggressively pursuing and meeting this responsibility to encourage space commercialization because:

  • Domestic commercial space companies have grown to annual revenues exceeding $3.5 billion in just three decades; thus their products and services represent an increasingly important economic sector in the world marketplace;
  • The U.S. cannot remain competitive in space technologies common to the world market unless private sector companies have and can sell high- technology products; correspondingly, only private capital can bring space technologies to bear on the national objective of improving the U.S. competitive position in the world trade; and
  • Unlike the mature communications satellite industry, many areas of plausible space commercialization still are in their infancy, and thus will require additional support from the government before returns to the private sector can be reasonably expected.

The Committee observes that considerable effort has been undertaken within the National Space Council and across a multitude of government offices, committees and advisory groups to develop a comprehensive and implementable commercial space policy. Parts of such a policy already are in place as guidelines to supplement the broad commercial space charge given NASA in the revised Space Act. However, the federal government is still by far the major consumer of space products and services, and will continue to be a highly significant, if not dominant, consumer for many years to come.

Given the above, the Committee would emphasize the importance of the U.S. Government following as closely as practicable the model established by the NACA/NASA successes in the aeronautics industry in order to encourage the fullest commercial use of space. Examples wherein further government actions can be helpful include ensuring that procurements are based on "best value" rather than lowest cost; on the related experience and past performance of the contractor; on functional requirements, not on detailed design specifications; on accepting, whenever appropriate, commercial production and quality assurance standards and techniques; and on using commercially offered space products and services whenever possible. Of particular importance is that in its commercial contracting, the government recognize the need for credible long-term contracts. (Item J.)

Finally, the Committee notes that commercial space policies have undergone substantial change every two years since 1982, and even newer policies are currently being promulgated. Significant additional private investments are not likely to be made in commercial space ventures until these policies become stable, and are perceived by those making investment decisions as likely to remain stable.

International Programs. Various elements of the U.S. civil space program have for a number of years involved the participation of international partners. In the case of the science program, collaborative efforts have included instrument design and construction, the interpretation of data, and the provision of entire instruments by groups of interested individuals.

On a larger scale, international collaboration now involves teaming arrangements including international partnerships where portions of robotic spacecraft or even entire spacecraft, are involved. In the case of the manned space program, scientists from several nations participated in the design of some of the instruments placed on the Moon in the Apollo program. The Apollo/Soyuz linkage in space in 1975 was a high point for the U.S. in cooperative endeavors with another country, in this case, the Soviet Union. International participation in manned space flight activities has continued in the Space Shuttle era, involving the provision of hardware and flights of foreign astronauts.

In a 1988 report to the President-elect, the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering noted that "partnerships with other nations and organizations can serve to demonstrate leadership, to forge productive relationships and to broaden the range of available opportunities, but only if international commitments are made carefully and honored fully." This report further advised that when collaborative arrangements are contemplated, they be "supported at the highest possible levels in the participating governments, with as much breadth as is feasible."

We, too, would advise that, prior to entering into international arrangements, especially for the necessarily large human exploration program, the government first determine its own goals and expectations. Once undertaken, a commitment should become exactly that. Thus, it is probably not prudent, in a longer-term program such as human exploration of space, to establish international agreements for the development of in-line critical program elements. It would also probably not be prudent for the U.S. to establish international agreements for program elements that would result in the permanent loss of critical national technical capabilities. Nonetheless, we believe that international cooperation should and will become an increasingly important aspect of future space activities, particularly in support of such missions as environmental monitoring and weather prediction.

Personnel Resources

NASA today employs approximately 24,000 civil servants, and has grown only modestly over the past five years. NASA's government employees are supported by some 41,000 support services contractors, and their numbers have grown substantially in the past three years.

For the nation to undertake the challenging and aggressive space program set forth by the President, it will require NASA and its supporting organizational elements to recruit and retain an adequate share of the nation's very best technical and managerial talent. In the past, the Apollo and early Space Shuttle pursuits offered the excitement needed to attract many such individuals. As we look to the future, however, the Committee is deeply concerned over NASA's ability to continue to attract such people. There are several reasons for this situation .

First, the restrictions of the civil service compensation system are not likely to permit NASA to be competitive with the private sector in recruiting and retaining the highest quality personnel in the decade ahead. As a specific example, since the beginning of the program in August 1984, there have been five different Associate Administrators for Space Station and five different Space Station Program Directors. Current civil service regulations on base pay, pay raise schedules, relocation costs, bonus opportunities and "dual compensation" all constrain NASA's ability to compete for talent.

In the case of new college graduates, private industry is able to pay some $5,000 to $10,000 more per year than is NASA, especially in high cost-of-living areas -- and that gap has been widening. The problem is particularly acute in the science and engineering disciplines where the number of college graduates is expected to decline by some 25 percent over the next decade.

A 1989 study of the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that federal employee salaries were, on average, 28.6 percent below those of the private sector. In an unpublished NASA study of compensation, it was shown that the Director of a major NASA center was paid about one-half as much as a person with equivalent responsibilities in industry. At higher levels the disparity is even greater.

Second, recent post-employment restrictions on individuals -- and particularly the future uncertainty of those restrictions and their interpretation -- have been a deterrent to the recruitment of talented technical and managerial personnel into NASA. Key managers with extensive industrial experience in technical programs are particularly reluctant to commit to government service in areas where their talent could be effectively and immediately utilized -- again because of concern over post-government employment restrictions. These restrictions were, of course, imposed to preclude possible conflicts of interest, but have been found extremely difficult to draft with precision and balance. Last year, five individuals from industry were approached concerning one key executive level position at NASA. All declined, primarily because of inadequate compensation and post- employment restrictions. A similar effect has been noted in recent cases where extraordinarily talented NASA employees have elected to terminate their government service.

These two problems will be partially offset in the future if the Executive and Legislative Branches are perceived to have jointly committed to an ambitious and challenging long-term space program. But it is our opinion that, although absolutely essential, such a program alone is not enough to attract and keep the talent needed. In fact, with the declining pool of available technical talent and the expanding gap between federal and private salaries, it is not at all clear that NASA will be able to meet the future challenges of an ambitious space program unless deliberate actions are taken now to redress the situation.

We have been somewhat encouraged by the recent passage of legislation increasing Executive and Senior Executive Service pay levels, and by the passage of the Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act of 1990, effecting a degree of long overdue reform of the civil service salary system. Once fully implemented by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), pay reform will provide base pay increases and compensation adjustments based on local labor costs, as well as other incentives such as recruitment and relocation bonuses and retention allowances. But this positive action may still not be sufficient to remedy a situation of the severity that now prevails.

The difficulty of removing civil servants who are not performing up-to- standard work creates even more acute problems for NASA. Its inability to easily and quickly remove non-performers further limits its ability to recruit new talent to meet future challenges. NASA management needs the additional flexibility to reward high-performers and remove non-performers swiftly. Accordingly, we propose --

Recommendation 14: That NASA should be designated a "pathfinding" agency for the implementation of an advanced personnel management system. Under this system the current legislative package would be expanded to include "pay for performance;" more flexibility in senior executive hiring, evaluation and removal; additional cost reimbursement for relocation; and a capability for handling extended temporary duty costs. NASA management should propose to OPM the personnel package it deems appropriate in the above regards.

Another human resources concern relates to the expected future reduction of experienced managerial talent at NASA. Today, a very large number of personnel are relatively new to the agency (Figure 16). This is illustrated by the "bimodal" age distribution of NASA employees (Figure 17). Within the past ten years the distribution of age and experience at NASA has moved from a maximum share appearing within the age brackets of 35 to 50 years to maximum occurring at 25-29 years and 45-54 years. While it is encouraging that the average age of NASA employees is decreasing, it is of concern to the Committee that the pool of talent in the 35-49 year bracket, from which future senior managers are usually drawn, is decreasing significantly.

chart indicating percentage of employees hired  before and after 1985 chart illustrating age compliment of NASA's work force

Based on historical attrition rates, NASA will lose over half of its senior-level managers in the next 5 to 10 years. Not only must the Executive and Legislative Branches address the total compensation system to recruit and retain talent to fill these and other key positions, it must also ensure that adequate resources are provided for career development of individuals already within NASA, not only to increase the size of the talent pool, but also to grow the capabilities of persons in the pool so that they may compete most effectively for increased responsibilities.

The Space Act of 1958 provided NASA with flexibility to hire up to 425 "critical-position" personnel, but NASA has not in recent years fully utilized this flexibility. The Office of Personnel Management also has the authority to allocate an additional 800 "critical-skills" personnel to various government agencies, and NASA should ensure that it receives an appropriate share of these positions. In addition, OPM has recently increased NASA's authority to hire special non-manager "Scientific and Technical" personnel at more competitive salaries. These all are steps in the right direction -- although impacting only a small fraction of NASA's work force.

A further possibility arises from consideration of the arrangement between NASA and the California Institute of Technology for management of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In the Committee's opinion, this has provided an enormously effective means of obtaining needed technical expertise unfettered by the adverse civil service restrictions. It is a model that could have wider application as the U.S. space program expands, although its broader use requires very careful planning in the transition process.

Such possibilities lead to --

Recommendation 15: That the Office of Personnel Management provide NASA the full flexibility permitted by law regarding dual compensation waivers, and that OMB allocate to NASA a significant portion of the 800 now approved "world-class" positions. NASA also should fully utilize the authority granted by the Space Act and fill all 425 "critical" personnel positions, thus helping redress locality pay inequities that will not be alleviated quickly enough by pay reform. New legislation should authorize NASA broad authority to establish, set the pay of, and fill up to 10 percent of its positions with "critical skills" appointments. In the event that recent and planned civil service reforms do not promptly alleviate the shortcomings of the NASA personnel system then, NASA should initiate the process of selectively phasing additional centers into the Jet Propulsion Laboratory model; that is, affiliate them with a university as Federally Funded Research and Development Centers.

The ability to recruit and retain an adequate share of the nation's best technical and managerial talent will determine to a great extent NASA's ability to carry out the ambitious civil space program herein envisioned over the next thirty years. For this reason, the Committee believes it is extremely important that NASA management place very high priority on personnel resources, including innovative solutions to the impediments of personnel recruitment, retention, training, replacement, and rewarding. To this end, it will be very important for NASA management to work closely with the OPM, the OMB, and the responsible Congressional Committees to develop flexible personnel regulations and to request appropriate reform measures. The Committee proposes, therefore --

That an Associate Administrator for Human Resources be established at NASA headquarters who shall be responsible for the recruitment to NASA of persons with critical skills, for ensuring that NASA maintain competitive compensation and personnel development policies to retain such people, and for working with OPM, OMB and the Congress on additional reforms to remove impediments to the recruitment and retention of talented and motivated people. (Item K.)

The Committee notes that current statistics on technical and scientific education within this country reveal that U.S. high school students are taking fewer science and mathematics courses than their peers in any advanced nation in the world. Further, the number of U.S. college graduates pursuing careers in science and engineering has decreased by nearly 50 percent over the past 30 years. Because NASA must draw heavily upon the engineering talents available in the U.S., we applaud NASA's active role in helping reverse these trends and encourage its continued effort in this regard.