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Space Foundation Wants "Pioneering" to be NASA's Primary Purpose

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 05-Dec-2012
Updated: 05-Dec-2012 07:15 AM

The Space Foundation wants the law that created NASA to be amended to make "pioneering" the agency's primary purpose.  That is one of a lengthy list of recommendations the Colorado-based nonprofit advocate for the space industry issued yesterday.

Its report, PIONEERING: Sustaining U.S. Leadership in Space, argues that pioneering should be the "single, compelling purpose" for NASA and any activity that does not fit its definition of that word should be transferred elsewhere.    It defines pioneering as being among those who first enter a region to open it for use and development by others, and being one of a group that builds and prepares infrastructure precursors, in advance of others. The report then lays out a four-phase "pioneering doctrine" of access, exploration, utilization and transition.

The report contains detailed recommendations on how to amend the 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act that created NASA.  The Act has been amended many times over the decades, in some cases adding new missions for the agency such as research and development of ground propulsion, bioengineering, solar heating and cooling, and manufacturing technologies.  The Space Foundation wants all of those eliminated.   It also wants to "realign the national civil space enterprise" by shifting some of NASA's work to other agencies or the private sector.  "Although research functions such as aviation safety and automotive propulsion destabilize NASA's organizational focus, they may fit quite well under a different agency," the report says, for example. 

The Space Foundation calls for the NASA administrator to be appointed to a 5-year term (half that proposed by Rep. John Culberson and Frank Wolf in the Space Leadership Preservation Act, H.R. 6491) and be the person to nominate the Deputy Administrator for the White House then to propose for Senate confirmation.   Currently the White House decides who to nominate for both Administrator and Deputy Administrator.  The report calls for NASA to develop both 10-year and 30-year plans submitted for congressional approval every 5 years that Congress would use to evaluate NASA's performance "following validation by a congressional commission" that would be chaired by the NASA Administrator.   The report does not make clear how having the head of NASA chair a commission to validate plans his own agency prepared would assist Congress in evaluating the agency's performance.

Those are just a few of the many recommendations in the report.  The Space Foundation concludes that "Although our recommendations go against the status quo, we believe them to be reasonable and straightforward."


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