National Academies Press: OpenBook

Managing the Space Sciences (1995)

Chapter: Introduction

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Suggested Citation:"Introduction." National Research Council. 1995. Managing the Space Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9297.




The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was established in 1958 to conduct the civil space program of the United States in response to the challenge of the Soviet Sputnik, the first artificial Earth satellite. In founding NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 directed the new agency to undertake the

  • “expansion of human knowledge of the Earth and of phenomena in the atmosphere and in space” and the

  • “preservation of the role of the United States as a leader in aeronautical and space science and technology.”

NASA was formed from the existing National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) and absorbed the bulk of the Vanguard Project and its staff from the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL). The U.S. Army's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Redstone Arsenal were added shortly thereafter. Two NASA program offices were established, Aeronautical and Space Research (oriented toward engineering research) and Space Flight Development.1 One of four elements in the latter office, space science, assumed responsibility for the agency's earliest endeavors in Earth orbital, lunar and planetary, and suborbital research. A reorganization in late 1961 elevated space science to the level of a full program office. It has retained this status since that time, with some variation in the disciplines incorporated in it. In late 1963 the Office of Space Science and the Office of Applications were merged to create the Office of Space Science and Applications, joining the Earth sciences with other sciences. Because of increased emphasis on applications of space science and technology to terrestrial problems in the post-Apollo period, the offices were separated again in 1972. In 1982, they were re-merged.

Life science elements (bioscience, space medicine, and exobiology), which had previously been scattered across the agency, were consolidated in the Office of Space Science in 1975. Microgravity science became part of the program of the Office of Space and Terrestrial Applications in the 1970s. Thus, when science and applications were recombined in 1982, the reconstituted Office of Space Science


NASA, The Evolution of the NASA Organization, March 1985.

Suggested Citation:"Introduction." National Research Council. 1995. Managing the Space Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9297.

and Applications (OSSA) included all the science elements of the agency's program: the traditional space sciences (astrophysics, space physics, and solar system exploration), the life sciences (bioscience, space medicine, and exobiology), Earth science, and microgravity science.

On October 15, 1992, NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin announced a number of changes in the NASA organization to “better focus NASA 's programs, to streamline how we do business so we can meet the challenges ahead.” Among these changes was division of OSSA into two parts: the Office of Mission to Planet Earth (OMTPE), including Earth science and applications programs, and the Office of Planetary Science and Astrophysics (later renamed the Office of Space Science—OSS), consisting of the three traditional space science programs, astrophysics, space physics, and solar system exploration. At that time, no mention was made of the life sciences or microgravity science. Concurrently, the Associate Administrator for Space Science and Applications was appointed to the position of Chief Scientist for NASA, a position occupied during the 1970s and 1980s, but vacant since the late 1980s. Acting associate administrators were announced for OSS and OMTPE.

These changes were formally implemented on March 11, 1993, and an Office of Life and Microgravity Sciences and Applications (OLMSA) was established (effective March 8, 1993). OLMSA incorporated life and biomedical sciences, microgravity science and applications, flight support systems, and aerospace medicine and occupational health. With these changes, the NASA space sciences, which had been collected within OSSA for the 10 preceding years, were now distributed among three program offices—traditional space science in OSS, Earth science in OMTPE, and life and microgravity sciences in OLMSA.

During the summer of 1993, the Senate Subcommittee on VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies (NASA's appropriations subcommittee), which had been a strong supporter of the unified OSSA science office and its management prior to this reorganization, requested in the report accompanying its FY 1994 appropriations bill that the National Academy of Sciences “undertake a comprehensive review of the role and position of space science within NASA.” The subcommittee, citing as especially effective the strategic planning, cross-disciplinary priority setting, and management controls of OSSA, directed that the study consider the possibility of creating an “Institute for Space Science” within NASA roughly analogous to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the Department of Health and Human Services. (The following year, the subcommittee restated its concerns about a lack of new science missions in NASA planning in the report accompanying the FY 1995 appropriations bill, and suggested that the Academy consider this also in its study.) Appendix A provides the subcommittee report language.

On April 7, 1994, NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin wrote to the National Research Council (NRC), the operating arm of the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering, to request initiation of the study (Appendix A). Study responsibility was given to the Space Studies Board, which established a “Future of Space Science” project. The committee structure proposed by the Board and approved by the NRC was a steering group and three task groups charged with tackling specific aspects of the study. The project statement of task and charges to individual task groups are provided in Appendix B.

The steering group of the committee met four times to review and guide progress on the study (August 2-3, 1994; and January 4-5, June 9-10, and August 7-8, 1995) and to hear from a number of key NASA managers on issues under study (Appendix H). The already-existing Joint Committee on Technology for Space Science and Applications (operated jointly with the NRC Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board) was charged as a first task group with examining how to improve technology development and utilization in the agency 's science programs. A new Task Group on Research Prioritization was established to analyze the general problem of research prioritization and to address the problem of sheltering NASA's ability to promote and support highly innovative and unproven research in a highly competitive funding environment. A Task Group on Alternative Organizations was also formed to consider alternative organizations for the management of NASA space science.

Suggested Citation:"Introduction." National Research Council. 1995. Managing the Space Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9297.


The charge to the Task Group on Alternative Organizations (Appendix B) encompasses a broader set of issues and alternatives than those set out in the Senate subcommittee report. Specifically, the task group felt that a number of alternative organizational arrangements employed in institutions other than the NIH were also potentially relevant to NASA space science. In addition to details of science program management in NASA Headquarters, the task group also identified as important to this study both the overall NASA organization (Headquarters institutional and staff office management and field centers) and the relationships of NASA with the external communities, including research performers, users of NASA research results, educational institutions, and international organizations.

At its first meeting (December 8-9, 1994), the task group reviewed its charge, discussed with senior NASA officials the current NASA science organization, reviewed the environmental drivers for change, and established a plan for the conduct of its study. In four subsequent meetings (February 2-3, March 10-11, March 27-28, and April 18-19, 1995), the task group conducted interviews with science managers and performers from both NASA and other institutions that use different management approaches. Those interviewed are listed in Appendix H. These interviews were arranged to address three separate but related aspects of scientific research: (1) how others manage research, that is, the approach to funding and management of science of other research organizations, both in and out of government; (2) how the performers of NASA-sponsored scientific research (both in and out of NASA) view NASA's management of that research; and (3) how users of NASA's scientific research (e.g., the Department of Defense, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) interact with NASA. A final meeting devoted entirely to writing took place on May 24-25.

Based on these interviews and the experience of its members, the task group identified key issues in science management (both generic and specific to NASA), established a set of principles that embodied the best and most successful elements of science management, and applied those principles to alternative organizational arrangements for NASA. The result led to a recommended approach for NASA that embodies the principles, applies them to the NASA context, and maintains a degree of continuity for NASA, research performers, and users of scientific research.

While the present study was in progress, the NASA Federal Laboratory Review Task Force of the NASA Advisory Council completed its report 2 and submitted it to NASA. Responding to a Presidential directive to the National Science and Technology Council to conduct an interagency review of research and development at federal laboratories, this report addressed some of the same subjects as the present study. There was substantial agreement in areas of overlap.


The study history of priority setting in science is a lengthy one. In addressing its charge (Appendix B), the Task Group on Research Prioritization examined the processes, past and present, by which NASA priorities have been established and studied reports of other groups that have addressed the issue of priorities in science. The task group met on November 28-30, 1994, and February 21-22 and June 5-6, 1995, to interview managers from NASA and other agencies about their approaches to prioritization (Appendix H). Several task group teleconferences were also held to discuss findings.


Unlike the other two task groups that were established specifically for this study, the Task Group on Technology built directly on previous work of the Joint Committee on Technology (JCT) for Space


Federal Laboratory Review Task Force, NASA Advisory Council, NASA Federal Laboratory Review, February 1995.

Suggested Citation:"Introduction." National Research Council. 1995. Managing the Space Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9297.

Sciences and Applications operated by the NRC Space Studies Board and the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board. Of particular relevance was the 1993 report3 of the JCT-convened Committee on Space Science Technology Planning (CSSTP, described further in Chapter 6). The Task Group on Technology was composed of the eight members of the JCT, assisted by an advisor recently retired from NASA.

At the beginning of its work, the task group found that its charge (Appendix B) had much in common with the charge of the CSSTP and approached its task as an augmentation and update of the earlier work. Unlike the CSSTP study, which was the product of a large workshop, the task group's current assessment was based on meetings with NASA Headquarters personnel and on three fact-finding visits to the field centers. To carry out its part of the study, the task group invited NASA Headquarters staff to discuss how its review might be most effective (August 23-24, 1994) and then requested Headquarters management briefings (November 14-15, 1994). The task group proceeded with site visits to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (February 23-24, 1995), the Lewis Research Center (March 30-31, 1995), and the Goddard Space Flight Center (April 25, 1995). After these visits the task group met with the associate administrators of the three NASA science offices (OSS, OMTPE, and OLMSA) and of the technology office (Office of Space Access and Technology) to discuss some of its preliminary findings and to receive an update of the information presented by those offices at its earlier meetings (April 26, 1995). A list of individuals interviewed by the task groups is provided in Appendix H. The task group also sent a letter (Appendix G) inviting written comments from the discipline committees of the Space Studies Board and from the representatives of the 79 member institutions of the University Space Research Association.

An acronym list is provided in Appendix I.


NRC, Committee on Space Science Technology Planning, Improving NASA's Technology for Space Science, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1993.

Suggested Citation:"Introduction." National Research Council. 1995. Managing the Space Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9297.
Page 5
Suggested Citation:"Introduction." National Research Council. 1995. Managing the Space Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9297.
Page 6
Suggested Citation:"Introduction." National Research Council. 1995. Managing the Space Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9297.
Page 7
Suggested Citation:"Introduction." National Research Council. 1995. Managing the Space Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9297.
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