The US government created NASA to focus American efforts toward a single goal: put a man on the moon in a non-military context (albeit with mostly military flight crew and inherently military overtones in the goal itself). Having accomplished that mission, NASA has remained at the center of almost all US space efforts, except for those with military objectives.

With all the various interests in space from commercial, institutional, military, and private entities towards a variety of objectives including exploration, research, resource development, and even tourism, does the US government still want to keep NASA central to it all, or is there an alternative vision? I once read something which declared an aim to get NASA "out of the space launch business", but it still appears to be heavily involved in the development and construction of space hardware and the ongoing business of launching payloads into space.

Consider aviation... there is the FAA and the American air traffic control system which exists to promote aviation and to promote increased safety in aviation. It doesn't transport people or goods, build aircraft, or do aeronautical research, generally doesn't operate aircraft at all, leaving that to private, institutional, and commercial operators.

Is there a similar model in the works for America in space?

  • $\begingroup$ Re The US government created NASA to focus American efforts toward a single goal -- that is wrong. NASA was created in 1958. The Apollo program started in 1961, 2 1/2 years after NASA was created, and a few weeks after the US launched Alan Shepard into space. It's hard to answer a question when it starts with the wrong assumptions. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 30, 2014 at 3:41
  • $\begingroup$ Actually, 'Apollo' was started under Eisenhower in 1959/60. It first appears in the 1961 budget but was planned as a long-term research program. Kennedy simply re-prioritized it on the assumption we could beat the Russians to the Moon, but not to building a Space Station. NASA was as surprised by his move as everyone else. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 30, 2014 at 19:44
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps I should have rephrased my question. It was really about the whether there is a long-term vision along the lines of "put in place the appropriate administrative agencies and regulatory framework to facilitate the development of space by private and commercial interests - resource extraction, colonization, etc. in places such as the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, moons of the outer planets, etc." - that sort of vision, not a space mission to-do list for NASA. $\endgroup$
    – Anthony X
    Commented Jul 1, 2014 at 0:35

3 Answers 3


What is the US government's long term vision for space development and exploration?


Call me a troll, but the US government is composed of short-term-elected officials who use NASA to provide jobs for their constituency. This is often called 'pork' when discussed in a derogatory fashion.

The NASA Administrator and especially the scientists and engineers employed by NASA may look long-term, but they are not the US government referenced in the question. NASA has from almost the beginning been a political tool. That in itself is not a bad thing (look what the space race has brought us) but today as there is no adversary there is no long term vision for space development and exploration.


'The U.S. government's long-term vision' is actually a contradiction in terms. There is no 'national goal' for space in the U.S. What we have are a series of short-term goals strung out to look like a long-term goal. . .build a spacecraft. . .land on the Moon. . .build a reusable spacecraft. . .build a space station. . .build a cheaper spacecraft. . .grab an asteroid. . .go to Mars. . . None of it is integrated into one, over-arching vision accept when politicians want to look visionary. Their vision - when they have one - only lasts as long as their terms in office. Sometimes not even that long.

If you are wondering about colonizing space or the Moon or Mars or. . . Forget it. NASA does not (indeed, CANNOT) do 'colonization'. All NASA can ever do is put a few very few semi-lucky souls out there and bring them back alive. they have not always succeeded.


I suspect that most government agencies (around the world), have elements that can be manipulated for local goals - it's probably the best and worst sides of representative government.. However, NASA is really two agencies, that of human spaceflight, and that of robotic spaceflight.

In the former, I think that this administration has finally recognized that human exploration cannot advance without private sector leadership. And to me, that is very exciting, although I wish I was 20 years younger and could see more of what is about to unfold.

As far as robotic exploration, I couldn't have lived in a more exciting time.. I've seen images from just about every planet and moon in our solar system, we have orbiters around Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and even some asteroids and comets. We have two landers on Mars.. We have craft on their way to Ceres, Jupiter, and Pluto. We have amazing space and terrestrial telescopes, and we are getting better at making these projects - at least (knock on wood), the success rate is improving.

Other than the engineering feat of getting places, (think Jet Propulsion Lab, Orbital Sciences, and others), each NASA center is linked to a set of Universities. For example, JPL has CalTech and Arizona State University while Goddard is linked to Johns Hopkins, Maryland, and others.

I think this structure is brilliant, as the academics are rightly getting to do their research, while engineering is working with the academics to build on for the next steps. This synergy is what NASA brings to the table.

Finally, NASA has invested a ton in Earth Resource Science, so that we can learn about what has happened on Earth in the past, and our possible impact at present.


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