Does anyone know how NASA decided on what to do and what missions to follow? Was it something that was decided internally, or were missions ordered by the federal government?

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    $\begingroup$ NASA is part of the Federal government. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 15:26
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    $\begingroup$ Right, I think I worded my question wrong haha. Did the objectives come from some sort of higher power, or were they wholly decided by NASA? $\endgroup$
    – Philip
    Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 19:15
  • $\begingroup$ You may be interested in the answers to Who in the US actually “sends” astronauts to the Moon? The executive or the legislative branch? Congress controlls the purse strings, but the executive branch is a semi-equal source of authority. NASA generally proposes missions based on science and some combination of guidance and strong-arming from the government. It's probably a bit like making saussage, once you know how it's done, you don't really want to know, but it's too late. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 4:50
  • $\begingroup$ voting to leave open. While some people may feel it is too broad for them to answer themselves, a reasonably good answer can be, and already has been posted. Therefore it's obviously not too broad to answer! Q. E. D. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 4:51

1 Answer 1


It depends on the type of mission. Generally:

  1. Scientific missions these days are decided on via the decadal surveys (for astronomy, planetary science and earth science). These are organized by the United States National Research Council. Scientists submit their proposal. A committee evaluates these proposals for their science return, feasibility etc. and recommends missions to NASA.

  2. Manned missions are subject to political influence. Most famously, the Apollo program was born out of a presidential directive. These days, the US Congress often influences decisionmaking at NASA by writing requirements into the appropriations bill that controls NASA's budget (saying 'you have $n of budget but you have to spend it on X'). The ISS is another example.

There is some overlap between the two: flagship missions like JWST get politicized because they require a large enough budget to be politically interesting. Lots of the nuts and bolts of the manned program are left to NASA (little interference in what science is done on the ISS).

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the answer! I'm writing about this for school, do you by any chance have a source on this? It would really help me out! Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – Philip
    Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 19:22
  • $\begingroup$ it turns out there's an entire book on the decadal survey process. $\endgroup$
    – Hobbes
    Commented Sep 18, 2019 at 9:59

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