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The Advancement and Obstacles of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration

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The Advancement and Obstacles of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Abstract This essay discusses articles that observe the financial standing of the National Aeronautic and Space Administration, as well as the correlation between public opinion and governmental funding. The main discussion goes through a history of the administration, separated into five different eras based on significant missions, and how each era differed based on the expected outcome of a mission or program. In addition, the government and the public’s financial support is discussed for each program. The fifth era then leads into the discussion of current funding and cuts from the Obama administration and the future of the agency with different goals in place.

NASA has changed the face of America. From the beginning, the administration had very ambitious and innovative ideas that sparked heavy admiration and support yet, also much criticism. This large support and opposition has led to many different obstacles to overcome in progression, such as lack of funding and public support for astronomically innovative ideas.
Lambright (2010) states the most fundamental explanation of the development of NASA, saying, “NASA has a life that is a function of its internal dynamics and political environment. As that environment has changed, NASA has adapted—sometimes voluntarily, other times under pressure. As NASA has altered, so, too, has its relationship with external forces.” He then goes on to explain that the evolution of the organization is separated into five distinct but moderately overlapping eras to describe the accomplishments and obstacles the organization has overcome.
The first era Lambright discusses is the birth of NASA in 1958, from the pre-existing agency the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. In this first era, the basis was to compete and create a program to catch up with that the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, due to lack of necessary funding and support as well as the competing Department of Defense for space programs, the agency received very little support and subsequently little funding to further their programs.

The Apollo Era This second era started with President Kennedy in 1961, and has by far the most publicly supported and financially stable era of the administration since its conception. The evolution through this era was mainly due to the strength and willingness of NASA’s administrator James Webb. With his strong will for advancement, he transformed NASA into a federal agency set on manned space exploration with the goal of sending man to the moon. This was more than enough to draw massive amounts of public attention, bringing in more funding than could be imagined for the time of which everything was taking place. Unfortunately, this era also ended abruptly, in part due to the Vietnam War and subsequently a loss of public interest.

The Shuttle Era The third era Lambright describes is the most unique of the five, due to the large lack of support from such a large and influential group. The era started with President Nixon’s rejection of a large and ambitious plan to create shuttles, a space station in Earth’s orbit, and a means to voyage to Mars. Nixon’s response to this plan was stated as follows: We must think of [space activities] as part of a continuing process—one which will go on day in and day out, year in and year out—and not as a series of separate leaps, each requiring a massive concentration of energy and will and accomplished on a crash timetable. Our space program should not be planned in a rigid manner, decade by decade, but on a continuing flexible basis, one which takes into account our changing needs and our expanding knowledge. We must also realize that space expenditures must take their proper place within a rigorous system of national priorities. (p. 3) Woods (2009) also, speaking of President Nixon, said he, “Despite the rhetoric, was not a NASA fan. Even though NASA was established under his Vice Presidency during the Eisenhower Administration, he essentially saw the civilian space program as a Kennedy project. Moreover, Nixon had formed the opinion that scientists and academics were against him, a view that contributed to his decision to abolish the President’s Science Advisory Committee and Federal Council on Science and Technology.” Based on this assessment, it is obvious what Nixon’s intentions were. Although under his presidency the U.S. would “invest in a multi-billion dollar enterprise,” Lambright explains that the percentage of the federal budget NASA received decreased from 4.5 percent at its height in the 1960s to 1 percent in the 1970s under Nixon.

The Space Station Era Although there was a lack of support from the government, the public still kept a close eye on the endeavors of the administration because, as the shuttle was finally becoming fully operational nearly fifteen years after its conception, NASA was finally given the ability and funds to build a space station that the shuttle could continually service. This started the fourth era of NASA’s evolution. The agency was finally regaining funding for the new project, but was soon derailed with the Challenger tragedy. At the same time a new administrator was being put in place, who could not control or support the administration in its newly criticized state, causing public support to falter. Due to the lack of support, funding could not fully engage the new station until the 1990s with President Clinton in office. It was under Clinton that the station and shuttle reached higher potential, when the U.S. boarded the International Space Station with Russia, and started the permanent human occupation of a facility in space.

The Moon-Mars Era The moon-mars era is the fifth and current era that NASA has evolved into. This era roughly began with the appointment of Sean O’Keefe as NASA’s administrator in November 2001. His goal was to regain funding for an aging International Space Station but after the failure of the shuttle Columbia the public opinion yet again moved against NASA’s goals to finish the shuttle and space station system. O’Keefe was forced to start a larger and more ambitious program than ever before to regain support from both government and the U.S. public alike. This is what started the current era of space exploration with the main goal of human exploration of Mars, starting with many robotic mars rover missions, and theoretically ending with the Constellation Program.
Current Budget Cut and Lack of Presidential Support At current, the budget continues to be the biggest factor in the struggle of NASA to create another large impact on the world. From 1990 to present, the agency’s budget has increased from 12.4 billion dollars in 1990 to 17.6 billion in 2012 (Office of Management and Budget, 2013). Although a budget increase is always positive, this increase is greatly disproportional to the overall budget of the entirety of the U.S. government, which has increased from 1.253 trillion dollars in 1990 to 3.7955 trillion in 2012. Based on the national budget increase, NASA’s budget should instead be nearly 40 billion dollars in proportion to the increase. In addition to this, the largest budget the administration had in that twenty-two year period was 19.2 billion dollars, in 2009. Hartman (2010) shows that this is in direct relation to the election of President Obama, as he has either cut or kept the budget the same every year in office- roughly 17.6 billion dollars. President Obama’s influence on the agency is far greater than just the budget decrease. After Choosing to retire the space shuttle fleet during President Bush’s term in office, the program Constellation became the next up-and-coming program for NASA’s future, as it called for the building of the Ares I and Ares V rockets for long-term manned spaceflights to Mars. This program was supposed to bring NASA back into the spotlight and help the administration gain more funding. Instead, as President Obama took office he found the program to be “a low priority on his overall agenda.”(Conley & Cobb, 2012) He then choose have research conducted on the entire program and determined that Constellation was neither possible in the current budget nor worth continuing. President Obama ended the program in 2010 and also, “has encouraged private industry to provide human transportation to and from the space station. NASA is to focus its efforts on a larger heavy-lift rocket.” (Conley & Cobb, 2012) This in turn meant that, although the Constellation program was scrapped, NASA could rearrange their budget to focus more on research for a new more efficient program. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (2013) shows clearly that between 2011 and 2012 there was an increase in funding for research within NASA- from 9.099 billion in 2011 to 9.399 billion in 2012. In addition to maneuvering the already given budget of NASA, Hawes and Duffey (2008) discuss a possible method of increasing income within the administration, instead of from only receiving the yearly financial budget. They explain that, “Changes or upgrades to the ISS can be envisioned for three principal reasons. The first is to improve the safety of the vehicle. The second category is mission-driven enhancements,” and most importantly, The third category is to derive cost savings or improve sustainability. In this category, cost is the principal driver and the anticipated savings over the long ISS life cycle should be considerable. In cases where technologies may simplify operations or logistics requirements, these improvements can still be factored as overall cost savings to the ISS budget. (p. 1)
Moving forward with a plan such as this could save NASA an unknown amount of money over a long period, again aiding any advancement in the research of human space exploration past Earth’s orbit. In conclusion of this research, there are many variables that have effected NASA’s financial stability since its conception fifty-five years ago. The largest hole in this discussion, through extensive research, seems to be a lack of any research directly relating government funding to public opinion. Although the assumption can be made that there is a relationship based on the time periods in which opinions changed and budgets fluctuated, there is no statistical data that was found to directly support this assumption. Besides this observation, there is much discussion on NASA’s future and whether funding the agency is necessary for growth in the aeronautics and space exploration category of science and engineering.

American Association for the Advancement of Science (2013). Table 815: Federal Research And Development (R and D) By Federal Agency: Fiscal Year 2011 And 2012, In ProQuest, ProQuest Statistical Abstract of the United States:2013.

CONLEY, R. S., & COBB, W. (2012). Presidential vision or [US] congressional derision? Explaining budgeting outcomes for NASA, 1958-2008. Congress And The Presidency, 39(1), 51-73.

Hartman, C. N. (2010). Projections for Future Funding of NASA And NASA Science Activities: Reassessing the Obama FY 2010 Budget Request. AIP Conference Proceedings, 1208(1), 454-463. doi:10.1063/1.3326275

Hawes, W., & Duffey, M. R. (2008). Formulation of Financial Valuation Methodologies for NASA's Human Spaceflight Projects. Project Management Journal, 39(1), 85-94. doi:10.1002/pmj.20032

Lambright, W. (2010). Exploring Space: NASA at Fifty and Beyond. Public Administration Review, 70(1), 151-157.

Office of Management and Budget (2013). Table 480: Federal Budget Outlays By Agency: 1990 To 2012 [Selected Fiscal Years], In ProQuest, ProQuest Statistical Abstract of the United States:2013.

Woods, B. (2009). A political history of NASA's space shuttle: the development years, 1972 1982. Sociological Review Monograph, 57(1), 25-46. doi:10.1111/j.1467-954X.2009.01815.x

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