Status Report

AIP FYI #63: Space Programs of Other Countries; Culture Change at NASA

By SpaceRef Editor
May 17, 2004
Filed under , ,

President Bush’s announcement of a new U.S. space exploration
initiative and the efforts to rectify safety concerns and return the
shuttle to flight have put NASA in the spotlight this year both in
the media and in Congress. An April hearing of the Senate Commerce
Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space examined how other
countries’ space programs compare to that of the U.S., while a
report released in March assesses NASA’s organizational culture and
recommends a plan of action to improve it.


“We are in a global competition for the future,” announced
Subcommittee Chairman Sam Brownback (R-KS), a competition in which
space will be “a key element.” Witnesses at the April 27 hearing
described the programs of other space-faring nations. During the
discussion, James Oberg of Soaring Hawk Productions, Inc. warned
that the U.S. is “never going to dominate entirely” in space again.

According to John Logsdon of the George Washington University’s
Space Policy Institute, Japan has sent, or plans to send, unmanned
exploratory spacecraft to many of the planets, the Moon, and an
Earth-crossing asteroid. It has hopes of being a key player in an
international lunar base, but spacecraft and launch failures have
sidetracked its space program recently. India’s space program, he
said, has been largely focused on technical development and economic
growth, but India is now showing interest in solar system
exploration, with intentions to send its first unmanned mission to
the Moon in 2007. Europe, said Logsdon, is “a very active player
already” in solar system exploration, and is studying the
possibility of a manned mission to Mars in the 2030-2040 time
frame. Marcia Smith of the Congressional Research Service noted
that Russia has operated seven successful space stations, and even
though its space budget was decimated with the collapse of the
Soviet Union, it is still interested in “the types of objectives
laid out in President Bush’s vision.” So far, she said, the
President’s message to other countries has been that they are
invited to help achieve exploration objectives set out by the U.S.
The Chinese hope to have a probe in lunar orbit by 2007, reported
Oberg. Their intent, he said, is to learn from the mistakes that
other countries have made, and to use their space program to
demonstrate the credibility of their technology to the rest of the
world. He estimated that China was about 12 years from its first
manned space flight, and suggested that the Chinese would be looking
for a goal that other countries are not considering, such as perhaps
a trip to a near-Earth asteroid.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) questioned why the U.S. initiative included
returning to the Moon before heading to Mars. Oberg said the
International Space Station program has “taught us that we’re not
smart enough yet” to build a spacecraft that does not need resupply;
things broke down faster than expected and required more spare parts
than planned for. Both Smith and Logsdon referred to potential
resources on the Moon that could be used for further missions.
Smith added that while the U.S. is a party to four U.N. treaties
regulating space activities, it is not a party to a fifth treaty
regulating use of the Moon and its resources.

Smith also emphasized the fact that President Bush’s space
exploration proposal would, for the first time, make U.S. access to
the space station dependent on the Russians during the 2010-2014
period, after the shuttle is retired but before a U.S.-built Crew
Exploration Vehicle is expected to be ready. “This is a profound
change” in the U.S. approach to international cooperation, she
stated, and would depend on our future relationship with Russia.
Oberg pointed to the value of having dual U.S. and Russian access to
the station: “Each was there when the other wasn’t.” “I just don’t
pick up enthusiasm in Congress for continuing the shuttle much
longer,” Brownback said, even though the expected lack of a U.S.
human transport capability between 2010 and 2014 was one of
senators’ major concerns at an April 1 hearing he chaired (see FYI

Smith estimated that Russia spends approximately $500 million
annually on its space program, India spends about $450 million,
China about $2 billion, and Europe spends $4.5 billion for civilian
space programs and approximately the same amount for military space
programs. (NASA’s budget request for FY 2005 is $16.2 billion)
Sven Grahn of the Swedish Space Corporation explained how countries
with small space budgets could now, with advances in software and
electronics, mount unmanned missions using off-the-shelf,
interchangeable components. Smith said that all major space-faring
nations have outreach to other partners; “it usually boils down to
money,” she said.

Commenting that “I don’t see anybody much saying we shouldn’t
continue with manned exploration,” Brownback indicated that he was
interested in working on an authorization bill incorporating
President Bush’s exploration proposal.


Earlier this year, NASA received the results of an evaluation of the
agency’ s overall safety climate and culture. The March 15 report,
produced by Behavioral Science Technology, Inc. and entitled,
“Assessment and Plan for Organizational Culture Change at NASA,” is
available on the NASA web site at .

The assessment found that while “there are many positive aspects to
the NASA culture,” there are also “some important needs for
improvement. The present NASA culture does not yet fully reflect
the Agency’s espoused core values of Safety, People, Excellence, and
Integrity.” For the assessment, NASA employees were asked to
complete a survey rating the agency in the following categories:
Procedural Justice; Leader-Member Exchange; Management Credibility;
Perceived Organizational Support; Teamwork; Workgroup Relations;
Safety Climate; Upward Communication; and Approaching Others.
According to the report, “The two scales where NASA scores lowest
are Perceived Organizational Support…and Upward Communication.”
>From additional questions, the report determined that “There is a
clear perception that budget constraints compromise engineering and
mission safety.” The report found “a strong sense of dedication and
commitment to the Agency’s work” among employees, but also
“frustration about a number of things,” including the relationship
between headquarters and the centers; competition among the centers;
impediments to speaking up; variability in leadership and management
skill levels; NASA’s treatment of its contractors; and confusion
about the purposes of a number of new safety, management, financial
and return to flight initiatives.

In order to address the deficiencies found, the report lays out an
“approach to cultural transformation” that includes such
recommendations as leadership and management performance analysis,
coaching and workshops; behavioral observation and feedback
processes; team effectiveness training; and competency-based systems
of performance management, hiring and promotion.

Audrey T. Leath

Media and Government Relations Division

The American Institute of Physics

(301) 209-3094

SpaceRef staff editor.