An organization such as NASA depends upon government to give them leadership and direction. On May 25, 1961, in a message to Congress, President John F. Kennedy gave a rousing speech calling for a mission to land humans on the Moon. Charged with President Kennedy’s vision, the agency made great strides in technological progress.
This era of progress started to end around the start of the Nixon administration. NASA officials found that government was so longer interested in space explorations or scientific endeavors in general, for their own sake. Several reports by NASA’s Space Task Group for the expansion of extension of space exploration missions were reject one after another by the government.
Without the government’s support, NASA was left without any long-term vision or objective. In response to the lack of support for science-for-the-sake-of-science, NASA official developed a strategy to try to bundle up their scientific missions with the goals of the military or the private industries. They found that usually only projects that had underlying benefits for the military or industry were approved by the government.
The focus of NASA administration was shifted from technological achievement to the creation of political coalitions for their various programs. Campaigns in support of various NASA programs involved the support of such disparate entities as the military, private contractors hoping to get some business from the programs, space exploration enthusiasts from the public, astronomers and politicians looking for NASA related jobs in their districts.
One of the results of these ‘dirty politics’ in support of space programs was the Shuttle. The shuttle was supposed to be able to do multiple jobs, it was designed to transport people to and from a orbiting space station, deliver military spy satellites, deliver components of the space station into orbit, deliver space telescopes into orbit and so on and so forth.
McCurdy says that the presence of these multiple objectives seriously strained the technological ability of the agency. McCurdy cites this as one of the causes of the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster (McCurdy, 1993).
McCurdy theorizes that three decades of visionless existence had caused serious decay in the organizational capabilities of NASA. NASA administration had become bureaucratized and interested only in maintaining status quo. Thus, when the administration of Bush the senior came up with a proposal for renewed exploration of the moon and Mars, instead of grasping this opportunity to revitalize the agency, NASA response to the proposal was to try to bundle up the proposal into continued support for existing programs and into support for flailing sectors of the organization.
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