NASA at 50 Oral History
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Rebecca Wright
Washington, DC – 21 March 2007
Wright: Today is March 21st, 2007. We
are at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., to speak with Dr. Scott
Pace, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Program Analysis and
Evaluation, for the NASA at 50 Oral History Project. The interviewer
is Rebecca Wright with Sandra Johnson. In preparation for the space
agency’s fiftieth anniversary, the NASA Headquarters History
Office commissioned this oral history project to gather thoughts,
experiences, and reflections from NASA’s top managers. The information
recorded today will be transcribed and placed in the History Archives
here at NASA Headquarters, where it can be accessed for future projects.
Are there any questions that you might have before we begin today?
Pace: No, not at all. Glad to see you
Wright: Well, we are, too, and we thank
you for giving us this time. Dr. Pace, you’re responsible for
providing objective studies and analysis in support of policy, program,
and budget decisions by the NASA Administrator. Could you begin today
by briefly describing your background and tell us how you came into
your current position.
Pace: Okay. Let’s see. I was originally
a physics major as an undergraduate. I’ll go back to the beginning.
My first job out of high school was working at the [NASA] Jet Propulsion
Laboratory [California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California
(JPL)] in the summer of ’76. My first job there was when
Viking [1 Lander] landed on Mars. That was really exciting.
I went to finish my degree and I went to graduate school at MIT [Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts] in the aeronautical
engineering department, but also got a degree in technology and public
policy, because I’d become interested in the history of science
and history of large government efforts.
So after MIT I went to work for Rockwell International in Downey,
California, where they were building Shuttle Orbiters. That was also
very cool, because you could walk out on the shop floor and see people
machining an airlock door. I was working in both the business development
and advanced engineering groups, so I was among the people who pushed
paper, not the people who bent metal. But nonetheless it was good
to be in a place that was bending metal.
Afterwards, after several years there I realized that a lot of the
issues that I cared about in terms of space development and exploration
were really more political than they were technical. The problems
were more political and somewhat economic, but more policy related.
So I went back to school. The RAND Corporation had a graduate school
in public policy, so I’ve sort of been sliding downhill for
a long time, from physics to engineering to public policy, kind of
in this progression.
At RAND I worked on a number of different projects, including reviews
of the National Aero-Space Plane Program and some SDI- [Strategic
Defense Initiative] related work, as well as doing my dissertation
on launch vehicle choices that the nation was then facing. I came
back to Washington to work in the Commerce Department. I was a career
employee in the Department of Commerce’s Office of Space Commerce.
This was in the first [George H. W.] Bush administration. I worked
as the Deputy Director there, and I was a career staff employee in
the Office of the Deputy Secretary.
There we worked on a number of interesting items; the first regulations
for the first private remote sensing satellite systems; became Title
2 of the Land Remote Sensing Policy Act, 1992. We worked on streamlining
export controls, which I think today, given the difficulties in export
control, people would be thrilled if we could get back to where we
were in 1992, because a whole bunch of things subsequently happened
in the succeeding administrations.
We did the first agreements with the entry of nonmarket launch vehicle
systems, so agreements with the Chinese, the Russians, the Ukrainians,
into the international launch market. We did the first real statistics
on the growth of the commercial space industry happening at that time.
We had the first meetings with the emergence of the direct broadcast
audio systems, which today are Sirius and XM Radio. So it was an exciting
time for the commercial space area.
This was also the time when there was a National Space Council, and
one of the things the National Space Council did were several reports.
There were a number of difficulties at the time; the Hubble Space
Telescope, of course, was not good on orbit. Norm [Norman R.] Augustine
was named to head a commission, the Augustine Commission on the Future
of [the U.S.] Space [Program]. I was part of the Department of Commerce
team in that discussion. I was also involved in the Space Exploration
Initiative [SEI], the first effort to do the Moon-Mars effort again
in Bush 1 [President George H. W. Bush Administration].
One of the things that came out of the Augustine Commission Report
was that the idea that NASA was going to be doing work that was actually
somewhat different than it had done in the past. NASA’s work
has always traditionally been very project oriented. You build a satellite,
you put it on a rocket, you send it into orbit, you get the data,
it comes back. You build another satellite, you put it on a rocket,
and send it up, get data, come back. It’s not quite building
an architecture that’s interrelated, that spans decadal long
When you’re looking at the Space Exploration Initiative, there
is sort of a recognition, at least on my part and I think several
other people’s part on the commission, that what we were trying
to have NASA do was something more like the Defense Department, which
had a national military strategy; had a force structure that reflected
that strategy. You costed out what that force structure would take,
resources it would take. It, of course, never fit within the available
budget, and so you would go back and redo. So there’s an iterative
analysis cycle that you go on. You can try to find some sort of longer-term
strategy. You have a structure to meet that strategy, made up of a
whole bunch of little pieces. You try to integrate all of those with
the policy support and resources you had and so forth.
Well, that kind of cyclic analysis and integrative function was something
that people felt NASA needed, and, in fact, they refer to it as sort
of a PA&E-like function, because the Defense Department had a
Program Analysis and Evaluation Office, which arose in the [John F.]
Kennedy administration under Bob [Robert S.] McNamara in order to
adjudicate all the different competing demands on resources in the
Cold War. And, of course, you never had enough resources to do whatever
a service wanted to do. You had to pick and choose among them. In
fact, that was really the basis of sort of modern military systems
analysis, which the RAND Corporation had been involved in and I had
been exposed to.
So given NASA’s proposed new role in things like SEI, there
was a thought that you needed a PA&E-like function to do that,
and in the final Augustine Report it was referred to as sort of a
systems analysis house to do that. With the demise of SEI, NASA didn’t
really want to do that kind of systems analysis. There’s a whole
bunch of reasons for it that would probably take even longer than
we have, but my perception of it was because the enterprises or Mission
Directorates and so forth didn’t want to have independent analysis
and trade-offs. They knew what they wanted to do, thank you very much,
and without an overarching objective for the agency like SEI, there
wasn’t really a lot of push to do that integrative function
at the agency level and incur all the various pushback that you would
Now, the person heading the Office of Exploration at NASA, of course,
during that period of time was Michael [D.] Griffin, who I had been
aware of in his time when he was with the SDI Program, again when
I was at RAND and I would see what the SDI Program was doing and his
work; very impressed with some of the things that he was accomplishing.
Was very impressed with what he was able to do with limited resources
at NASA in the first Bush administration, and really the architecture
that he wanted to implement.
But with the end of the Bush administration we all sort of went our
separate ways. I went about six months into the [William J.] Clinton
administration, again as a career person, but really decided that
I had had enough of a government tour at that time. I accomplished
a lot, but I really, I think, had run out of new ideas that I wanted
to pursue at that time and decided I needed to go replenish my intellectual
So I went back to RAND in the Washington office and actually wound
up supporting the Clinton administration through OSTP [Office of Science
and Technology Policy]; a number of acquaintances and friends of mine
who were doing space and aeronautics work for OSTP, and so I was working
for the Critical Technologies Institute, which was a FFRDC [Federally
Funded Research and Development Center] for OSTP, and again my area
of the portfolio was space policy.
I did a number of things there. Probably the most notable among them
was the work that led to the GPS [Global Positioning System] policy
statement in 1996, which was the first statement, really, presidential
policy statement, on GPS as a dual-use technology. I also did some
work for rethinking some of the Mission to Planet Earth and commercial
remote sensing, and I also worked on the National Space Policy. So,
again, still very involved in policy sorts of issues, but at a bit
of a remove supporting my friends in OSTP.
I became involved in the election effort for George W. Bush, on science
and technology-related issues, and with the outcome of the election
I was part of the transition team, really two people, myself and Courtney
[A.] Stadd. Given the compressed schedule as a result of the election
dispute in Florida and the Supreme Court case and so forth, there
was not really time to stand up some of the larger transition teams
that had been done in the past. Past transition teams would be on
the order of, for NASA there would be about twenty-five, thirty people
and panels and so forth. There was no time. There were two of us.
So we were done by inauguration day, and we split up. Courtney came
over here to Headquarters as the Chief of Staff and White House Liaison,
and in the space of about a month or two, by April I wound up at OSTP
as the space and aeronautics person over there. So again a kind of
White House-agency sort of tie. After about a year at OSTP I came
back to NASA; went to work for Courtney as the Deputy Chief of Staff
for him under Sean O’Keefe. After the accident and loss of [Space
Shuttle] Columbia [STS-107], Sean reorganized the front office, and
actually one of the things that was actually quite timely and advantageous
for me was I went back to real work in an area that I had been doing
a lot of work in before, which were GPS and spectrum issues.
One of the things I had been involved with at RAND in the nineties,
late nineties after the 1996 GPS policy, was a number of large international
disputes over spectrum. There were tensions between the commercial
communities and the government communities over allocation and access
to spectrum, and I became involved in negotiations at the World Radio
Conference, which was held every few years. The first major one for
me was 1997. I was part of the U.S. delegation there. There were various
efforts to reallocate spectrum that was needed by GPS, and so the
U.S. opposed that, and it was a large international debate. I became
very involved with both the technology and politics of international
discussions on spectrum and communications.
So that’s what I wound up doing at NASA when I went to work
in the Space Communications Office and again working interagency issues
between ourselves, NTIA [National Telecommunications and Information
Administration], which handles government spectrum; FCC [Federal Communications
Commission], which handles commercial issues; involved in a number
of World Radio Conferences.
The 2003 World Radio Conference was coming up, and there were a couple
of pressing issues there. One of the comments Sean said to me is that
he said he wanted me to take that on, that he was obviously busy with
lots of other things, with Shuttle and [International Space] Station
and so forth. It had registered on him that some of these spectrum
discussions and communications issues were important to the agency
for science purposes as well as national security, and so his general
order to me was, “Pace, don’t let anything stupid happen.”
So with that order of “don’t let anything stupid happen,”
I went and was part of the U.S. delegation again, and we had a good
outcome at the conference that protected GPS.
I became more focused on technical work and was then not involved
in a lot of the policy work. I was watching some of my colleagues
in the policy development for the Vision for Space Exploration which
was sort of bittersweet. On one hand, I was extremely proud of my
colleagues, former colleagues, in what they did and pulled off for
the President’s speech, but on the other hand it was also watching
from a distance after having been, you know, directly involved in
policy for over a decade on these sorts of issues. But I was very
pleased with the outcome.
Then when Michael Griffin was named to become Administrator, he called
me up and said that he was forming a PA&E function at NASA in
light of the architectural demands that would be involved, the trade-offs
and so forth that would be necessary, and he thought that NASA needed
a PA&E analytical function.
I said, “Well, that’s great. It’s been about fifteen
years since we made that recommendation, but better late than never.
Great idea.” Pause.
“I want you to head it.”
“Oh, okay. Great. I think I know what to do.”
So in 2005 I left doing technical work and came back to doing policy-technical
work, so in April of ’05, and I’ve been in this position
ever since. We stood up the new organization, and it was part of the
change of the agency’s governing structure; having the Centers
report to Headquarters, to the Administrator, versus having to go
through the Mission Directorates; that you have a balance between
the programmatic side of the house and the institutional side of the
house. You want those tensions not resolved at lower levels, but you
want them resolved at a Headquarters level, and you want PA&E
to be not the adjudicator, but really the independent voice that says,
“Well, there’s A and there’s B, and here’s
the pro and con of each side.”
So our organization is made up of several parts. We do studies and
analysis, any PA&E Office does, for the Administrator and for
those top-priority questions that the Administrator thinks are worth
looking at. We have a Cost Analysis Division that provides independent
cost estimates, again, crucial in terms of resource allocation.
We have a Strategic Investments Division, which does the budget, essentially.
As part of the reorganization we pulled the strategic investments
work out of the Office of the CFO [Chief Financial Officer] and made
it a separate organization. When you look at the PA&E systems
and the budget systems, for example, at DoD [Department of Defense],
it’s what’s known as Planning, Programming, Budgeting,
and Execution, PPBE. The planning and programming side is one major
set of steps, and the budgeting and execution side is the other, so
there’s those who authorize the checks and those who cut the
checks. You keep those functions separate.
Now, NASA traditionally had put those functions together in the CFO
and, oddly enough, put them under the Comptroller. So we’ve
had very, very powerful and competent comptrollers in NASA for many
years, and they were the ones who were responsible for putting the
budget together. But it’s also sort of odd, because in any normal
corporate world the Comptroller is the person who determines that
the numbers are good for the CFO, who in turn advises the CEO [Chief
Executive Officer], who does strategy using the CFO. Well, the Comptroller
function we had in NASA was extremely powerful and focused, out of
any proportion to what you would see in sort of a normal governance
That was because work needed to get done. I don’t think there
was any malice aforethought of anybody. Work had to get done, the
budget had to get done, and it was the easiest way to do it.
But as we thought what the governance of the agency ought to be, one
of the things you wanted to do was to separate the authorizing of
checks from the cutting of the checks so there isn’t this sort
of self-dealing problem that you would sometimes—people would
see a lack of transparency I think would be the polite way to call
So what PA&E does in the strategic investment side is prepare
the strategic planning guidance, which is approved by the leadership;
pulls all the input from the Mission Directorates and Centers and
so forth; identifies where there are issues; crisps up those issues
for decision that are then decided on by the leadership chain, Mike
or Shana [L. Dale] or Rex [D. Geveden], the Administrator’s
Deputy Administrator or Associate Administrator.
So we’re staff, a corporate staff function. We are not a chain
of command function. We don’t tell anybody what to do, push
this button or close that building. But we are corporate staff. So
again a very, very important role that PA&E plays, I believe,
is the PPBE part of the process. Now, after the budget is done and
it’s approved and its monies appropriated, the CFO is in charge
of executing that money fund distribution and all the accounting side
of things. So there’s really two different cultures. There is
a CFO culture, and there is the PA&E, a budget and policy and
We have an Independent Program Assessment Office, which reviews programs
and projects at major milestones. It’s governed by Project and
Program Guidance 7120.5, now “D” version. It’s gone
through several versions; and there’s 7120.4, Program and Project
Management. Again, we’ve made a number of changes there where
projects come forward at particular milestones. They’re independently
reviewed. There are differences that you then try to reconcile. Where
the differences cannot be reconciled, you bring those forward to Program
Management Council for people to hear both sides.
But you work very collaboratively. It is not an audit function the
way reviews might be thought of. Again, what we try to do is it’s
like having a graduate student preparing for his exams. You want to
work them really hard, because you want them to pass, not because
you want to fail them. But you want to work them really hard so that
So Studies and Analysis, Cost Analysis Division, Independent Program
Assessment, and budget, and then I have a Mission Support Office,
which covers travel, procurement, and admin [administration], all
that kind of stuff, and it’s to try to provide a common basis
for all these rather disparate functions.
So anyway, that’s where we are today, which is we have a PA&E
function, which I have long thought was necessary, not just as a good
idea in and of itself, but one which comes out of the kind of work
NASA has been asked to do by presidential policy and legislation.
You could certainly do without having a PA&E function if you simply
wanted to be a collection of projects. The National Science Foundation,
for example, doesn’t really need a PA&E kind of activity,
but places like the Department of Energy or DoD or so forth, where
we have overarching architectural issues and trades between disparate
organizations, I think it’s a useful function.
So, sorry; long answer.
Wright: Good answer. And as I’ve
been listening, I believe that you’ve already answered partially
this next question I’m about to ask you, but what lessons have
you learned through these years that you were able to apply as you
created the formation of your organization, and ones that you’ll
be applying to reach your mission?
Pace: Lessons, hmm. Well, a lot—this
is sort of very idiosyncratic; if you asked me at a different time
or a different place, you might get a different answer; so it’s
idiosyncratic, so whatever’s on my mind, I guess, at the moment.
I think a lot of the lessons learned, to my mind, have been incorporated
into the governance model. The idea of checks and balances; the idea
of documenting decisions; the idea that how you operate and manage
a bureaucracy, as prosaic as that might seem, is absolutely critical
to achieving more transcendent or visionary goals and objectives.
One of the things I guess I learned in my first government tour in
Bush 1 was that I came in with maybe some of the usual prejudices
about government service and government bureaucrats in Washington
and all that, and I, I think fairly quickly, came to the conclusion
that the people were much better than I might have expected. I also
concluded that the system was much worse than I might have suspected.
To some extent this was just the nature of human organizations. Another
extent it was actually intentional by the founding fathers in terms
of setting up divided government. The federal government in particular
was not set up for efficiency, and that’s intentional.
So one of the things I learned was the importance of collaboration.
Sometimes I refer to it as an open conspiracy between career staff
and political staff. Politicals can get things done that careers cannot
do. They can make very fundamental sorts of changes. On the other
hand, if you want those changes to be long-lasting and enduring, you
really have to involve the career staff, and you have to convince
them that this is actually for the long-term good of the agency where
those career staff will be spending their lives, many of them. You
still have long tenures in the federal government in ways that you
do not have in the private sector much anymore.
So as a result there is sort of a miniature democratic conversation
that goes on, to my mind, must go on sort of successfully as a negotiation
between the careers and politicals on getting things done. One of
the things that I say is that career staff should learn how to, where
there’s opportunities for reform and improvement, they need
to learn how to use politicals, and the politicals in turn need to
understand how they need to use and involve career staff to elicit
more permanent change. So that kind of continuing democratic negotiation
is something that has certainly informed my background.
Another thing I would say is the differences in sort of cultural views
that people bring together, particularly in the space area. Space
has been interesting to me in part because of the conflict between
the use of dual-use technologies. Satellite navigation systems, communications,
launch vehicles, all these things have both civil and military applications.
They also have public and private uses. Actually, I wrote a paper
on this topic called “Merchants and Guardians,” which
refers to different cultural views.
There are the guardians, sort of Plato’s guardians of The Republic,
who have very long-term views, make change fairly slowly, slow to
trust, fairly conservative, interested in long-term principles and
values. Then there are the merchants, who are entrepreneurial, risk-taking,
energetic, will make a deal with anyone; relationships are fairly
short; everything kind of stands on its own individual merits. Those
are two very different ways of interacting and working, and there
can be merchants in the government—rarely, but some—and
there can be guardians in industry, but again rarely.
So as the public and private sectors try to talk and come to—they
talk about policy issues and programs and priorities—you find
them often having mental models of themselves that are culturally
very different from each other, and space, which has lots of other
aspects to it, political and emotional and visionary aspects to it,
comes in for more than its fair share, as well as being technically
challenging. So that’s a sort of a second lesson or whatever,
but certainly it’s a reality that I’ve seen.
Then finally I would say NASA, which tends to be very dominated, of
course, by scientists, engineers, astronauts, the technical community,
we tend not to pay attention to more prosaic things, what I’ve
sometimes called the soft underbelly of the agency, which is things
like procurement, legal, financial, all the things that are necessary
to make an organization run. I would submit that you can have a mission
failure just as assuredly because funds distribution doesn’t
work, or because the HR [Human Resources] Office doesn’t get
you the right people, than as if you blow up on the pad.
So in some ways this to me is reminiscent back to the James [E.] Webb
sort of experience, where James Webb was very much interested in management.
He came out of the Bureau of the Budget; understood that major endeavors
are often unstable conglomerations of forces and interests that you’re
trying to keep in metastable balance and moving in the same direction.
But that interest of his during the Apollo period, you can definitely,
I think, see the merit of it, because if all you focus on is the science
and engineering aspect, you will find yourself in deep trouble in
other areas, costs, monies, resources.
In management there are really four things to keep track of. There’s
people, there’s money, there’s what physical assets you
have, and then what programs you’re being asked to do. Pretty
much things evolve down to problems in those areas. Either you’ve
got the wrong program, you’ve got the wrong people, you’ve
got the wrong assets or too many of them, or you’ve got the
wrong amount of money at the wrong time. So attention to management
of a large bureaucracy is also crucially important.
Now, this may be biased by my having spent more time in Washington
than in a field Center. I did a master’s thesis on the Shuttle,
and I dug through a lot of the archives at JSC [Johnson Space Center,
Houston, Texas], and I dug through a lot of the archives back here
at Headquarters, and—well, during the time period ’69
to ’72 there were all these decisions being made. Although everybody
ostensibly was working on the same problem, the records at Headquarters
were just a dramatically different cultural environment than the records
JSC, you worry about wing planforms and whether or not Max [Maxime
A.] Faget’s straight wing would win out over the Delta wing,
and why the Air Force wanted the Delta wing, and arguments over mission
models and design reference missions and so forth. At Headquarters,
there are letters back and forth between Jim [James C.] Fletcher and
George [P.] Schultz and “Cap” [Caspar W.] Weinberger and
Don Rice and OMB [Office of Management and Budget] examiners and all
kinds of stuff that occasionally intersected with technology in debates
over the size of the payload bays and so forth, but in a very, very
So my bias has been more toward the policy and the Washington world,
so someone with a different NASA experience, maybe more in a field
Center program, will come up with a different view. Again, from my
experience the managerial side, the relationship between political
leadership and career staff, and the importance of dealing with different
cultures of the merchants and guardians, I think are sort of, in my
mind, the enduring touchstones that I’ve seen over and over
Wright: How have you watched NASA change
over the years since you first became involved to where you are now
generally? And then, of course, you’ve already explained how
it’s affected your area, but just in general.
Pace: Well, some things are the same
and some things are different. Right now we’re in a period where
we’re trying to develop a new generation of manned access to
space to replace the Shuttle after 2010. As a result of that, we’ve
had to take some steps such as moderating the growth in the science
budget, which had been projected to grow. We, of course, have slowed
that growth in order to pay for Shuttle and Station operations as
the highest priority things now and as we’re trying to develop,
within a fairly capped top line, a bunch of new systems.
If you look at the Apollo Program, there is this large spike in the
budget between fiscal years ’62 and ’64 which enabled
the parallel development of multiple activities. The assets at [NASA]
Kennedy Space Center [Florida], developments of multiple Saturn vehicles.
Now, that peak died off afterward, but that pulse of money at the
beginning was very important to doing simultaneous development programs.
Well, we don’t have that kind of pulse of money. We have a capped
top line. So as a result, if we’re going to start something
new, other things have to end. Shuttle Program has to end not only
because the CAIB [Columbia Accident Investigation Board] Report on
Columbia pretty much made it clear that we needed to transition off
of that, and I think people’s experiences with Shuttle as an
aging vehicle, but I think there is pretty much a consensus that it’s
time to wrap this program up, that that has to end in a way to make
room for a follow-on. We can’t do major simultaneous development
within a capped program.
As a result we have to make painful choices about what has to end
and how we start transition over to something new. So that’s,
on one hand, different between today versus, say, back in the sixties.
On the other hand, I remember during the seventies, late seventies,
after the last Apollo-Soyuz [Test Program] mission in ’75 and
before Shuttle in flew in ’81 when I was at JPL. I was a lab
technician making $2.85 an hour analyzing data, and I had my overtime
hours cut to zero because NASA was paying for Shuttle. This was during
the summers of ’77 and ’78, when Shuttle main engines
were blowing up down at [NASA] Stennis [Space Center, Mississippi]
and we were having lots of difficulties with the program.
So I tell that story because, I say, “You know, when you’re
making $2.85 an hour, overtime is really important, and I had my hours
cut to zero to pay for Shuttle. Not that I’m bitter about it
or anything”. You tell people, “Hey, guess what? We’re
in a generational change today which is also forcing constraints,”
because the option of walking away from manned space flight is really
not something a great nation should do.
There are some differences between now, and the first effort at the
Space Exploration Initiative. One of the things that is striking is
that the degree of denial that was present in NASA in the early nineties
but is not here today. I thought that NASA’s reaction in the
SEI Program—NASA has come under a number of unfair criticisms
for that program—but it seemed to me that NASA was offered a
very compelling and attractive vision, something it had long argued
for a long time, in the SEI Program.
But faced with a choice between making reforms necessary to achieve
that vision, within a capped budget environment and turning some things
off in order to do new things, making those kind of reforms and choices
to go after its vision, or preserving its culture. NASA chose to preserve
its culture. It chose to stay within its comfort zone of what it knew
and its routine rather than move out. Now, maybe that was because
it felt that they should be given more money to do these things. But,
that wasn’t going to be forthcoming. So in a choice between
its vision and its culture, NASA chose its culture.
Are those painful culture choices here today? Yes, they are, but,
I think the experience of the nineties and all the turbulence that
NASA went through, such as the pain of the Columbia accident and so
forth, I don’t see that sort of denial anymore. I see more a
sense of yes, we need to make tough choices. What we want to know
are the choices logical? Can we understand what the priorities are
and what the logic of it is? Yes, we always like more money. But given
that there’s not more money and we have to make painful choices,
do we think that there is some sort of logical process that’s
being followed that therefore can make our lives a little bit more
predictable in what we’re asked to do?
Again, this is probably where I’m biased, is I think we do have
that logic. I think that the Administrator has been very good at articulating
that logic in a way that NASA folks sort of understand, and that the
way that the Vision for Space Exploration was done this time is somewhat
different than the SEI effort. One of the ways it was different is
that the resource constraints and the need for tough priorities were
really spelled out right from the beginning. The President made his
speech saying, “This is a journey, not a race.”
The FY ’05 budget had some increases in there. We would love
to get back to where we were in FY ’05, by the way, versus dealing
with some of the CR [continuing resolution] issues and so forth we
are today. I would love to be back at the NASA budget in real dollars
terms where we were in 1992. It would solve a lot of current problems.
Again, it doesn’t need to be an Apollo-like effort of money.
It just needs to be a little bit better than it currently is. But
again, those constraints have led to more willingness to make some
hard choices and the Administrator’s ability to articulate the
logic behind those choices, both on the [Capitol] Hill and with career
staff, I think has been very helpful.
Nonetheless there are enduring differences. You will always have folks
in the science community who will say, “Well, the money should
go to my projects, because I think they’re wonderful.”
They have a point, and they should articulate that point, but it’s
up to other people to make those trades. Similarly you have technologist
who say, “Hey, more money ought to go into new technology because
that’s the way of the future.” On the other hand, you
don’t have a future if you don’t have manned access to
In my view, personal view, we wasted about a decade if not two decades
on Shuttle replacement with all sorts of excursions, beginning with,
say, the National Aero-Space Plane experience that I reviewed when
I was at RAND; also the Space Launch Initiatives and other efforts.
In part we did those things because we thought we had the luxury of
time and that the Shuttle could go on. When I first came here there
were people talking about Shuttle operations in 2020 and what would
be necessary for that, which I think were completely not viable.
Nonetheless people thought that that culture and that vehicle could
and should go on for a long period of time, and that therefore one
could afford to take higher chances with exotic technologies. If you
look at decisions like the X-33 Program, there was an intentional
choice made to go not with a vehicle that probably could be built—say,
a two-stage orbit vehicle—but intentionally went for the most
exotic technologies possible. So over-optimism on technology, a sense
that the downside risks were covered by an existing vehicle, meant
that when you did have an accident and you said, “You know,
we really do need to do something different,” you had to go
with what you knew, and that’s why a high degree of Shuttle
heritage parts and use of the existing industrial base and so forth
is so important to our plans today.
Technologists don’t like and rightly are critical, saying that
there are more promising things that we could have done, or could
be done better, it could be this, it could be that. Well, yes, but
that was maybe fifteen years ago. We’re out of time; pencils
The tensions we’re balancing today are between, again, the lofty
goals we have, the resources we have, the realities of where we are,
and the consequences of decisions that were made earlier and commitments
that were made earlier. I think part of the challenge for us or the
opportunity for us is how we deal with those constraints, the processes,
the governance, the explanations, the rationales, the logic, about
how we deal with those constraints is important to the sustainability
and the viability of the vision as it goes forward. It‘s precisely
how we deal with these problems that ensures that we can rebuild our
credibility, both with our stakeholders externally and also with the
NASA folks internally.
I’m going to stop you for just a minute, because our break time
Wright: If you would, share with us what your thoughts
are and what you believe NASA’s impact on society is as well
as its role for the future.
Pace: There’s several different
levels to that answer. At one level NASA is a discretionary tool of
Presidents. It’s sort of an ultimate discretionary activity.
Not only is science a discretionary activity, but exploration is a
discretionary sort of activity, and therefore if public resources
are going to be used on it, it has to be in some ways responsive to
what the Presidents want and what the [U.S.] Congress will support.
Kennedy used it as a means for Cold War competition with the Soviet
Union, in terms of hearts and minds of the third world and making
a demonstration of American capability. And therefore we did things,
with going to the Moon, that arguably were ahead of their time. They
were not things that normally emerged or evolved in terms of the course
of normal science or exploration, but were driven at a heated pace
by the political requirements of the Cold War.
You can also say that President [Ronald W.] Reagan used the space
program as part of his broader themes for “Morning in America,”
American renewal, as a counterpoint to the policies of the [Jimmy]
Carter administration, who explicitly disavowed large major-scale
engineering projects. There was a debate in the seventies about things
like solar power satellites and responding to the energy crisis and
so forth, and the Carter administration explicitly said that in their
policy there was no need for high-challenge engineering projects,
which while not naming solar power satellites and those kinds of things
explicitly, were definitely caught by it.
Ironically, the support for and interest in some of those things came
from Congress, in the form of people like Don Fuqua of the House Science
and Technology Committee at the time. The Reagan counterpoint used
the Shuttle and its symbolism, plus the Space Station, to be a unifying
force among the alliance, again in counterpoint to the Cold War as
an overarching political theme.
But with the Clinton administration you saw the Space Station nearly
died in Congress a couple of times, and at one point only surviving
by a single vote. With the Clinton administration, the involvement
of the Russians in the Space Station Program provided a new alignment
of political support for Station. You lost some conservative votes
who didn’t like to see the Russians involved; they saw it as
more of a U.S.-centric project. But you also picked up a larger number
of votes from people who liked the idea in Congress of involving the
Russians in the Space Station, now symbolizing the end of the Cold
So the large programs, particularly the human space exploration programs,
are responsive to the needs of the Presidents at the time. Now, there
are transcendent reasons and experiences with space exploration and
science that go beyond any particular President. You simply look at
some of the public reaction to Hubble Space Telescopes, the reaction
to the Rovers and so forth on Mars, the support and interest in human
space flight that’s still enduring there, although certainly
not what it was in the sixties, and to an extent, the exploration
in science and space symbolizes Americans’ definitions of who
they are. This is part of what great nations do. This is part of what
Americans define themselves as doing.
You could, of course, stop all this tomorrow, and we would still have
all the practical benefits of space, satellite communications and
navigations and remote sensing and all that sort of thing. But if
you weren’t doing exploration, and I think the Administrator
put it well in one of his speeches, that there would be sort of a
sense that something lost, that something was missing by America not
being involved in this. I certainly recall a feeling of relief or
of satisfaction at the launch of Columbia in 1981 with the return
of humans to space, who had not been there for the previous six years,
and even longer if you count back even to the Skylab missions. So
the idea that Americans are not in space, not exploring, I think is
something we would find disturbing.
But also ironically, and again the CAIB Commission put their fingers
on this, was the idea that we are only going around in low-Earth orbit
was also somewhat disturbing. People were getting the sense of, “Well,
where are we going with this?” prior to the President’s
speech. So having a sense of direction, even if we are constrained
by realities of money and resources and technology to maybe schedules
that take longer than we would like or progress is slower than we
would like, the idea of making progress, of engaging in exploration
as opposed to not doing those things is very important to Americans’
sense of themselves.
So there are the immediate necessities of day-to-day budgetary decisions
that the Congress deals with. There are the slightly longer term issues
that Presidents deal with in terms of what are the demands of the
country at the time and what is the overall tone and tenor of the
environment that we’re in. There are even longer term enduring
issues of Americans’ senses of themselves as to what they’re
So the importance of space is, of course, not just the practical benefits
but also the inspirational benefits, and inspiration means different
things to different stakeholders, the American people, Presidents,
and Congress. As we wind up going forward with hopefully the next
set of explorations, I think that the general direction that the President
laid out of journeying on to the Moon and on to Mars will be sort
of a cornerstone of what NASA will try to do.
What’s different today, with this effort versus maybe things
done in the past, is the role of the international community, the
role of the commercial community; and that there are these possibilities
of space tourism. There are possibilities of independent space capabilities
from China and India and other new players. Now, they’re facing
a number of difficult challenges. I don’t think that they are
going to supplant NASA or the United States anytime soon unless we
ourselves relinquish our efforts and give up, but it is a much more
crowded and dynamic field.
Space is literally larger than NASA and larger than the United States,
and so the question is now not whether anybody is there in space or
not, but who is there, how are they there, how are they operating,
and how are they working with each other. So are we engaging with
the commercial community in productive ways? Are we engaging with
the international community in productive ways? How we do those things
will reflect what values we are taking out onto the frontier, to use
that metaphor, and it is those values that are probably the most important
for defining what NASA and what space exploration more broadly are.
It’s not just our DNA and our robots that go out there. It’s
the values we carry.
I got involved in a number of debates back in the eighties with people
who wanted to go to Mars with the Soviets as part of détente,
increasing cooperation, and so forth. I opposed those kinds of efforts,
spoke against them as a private citizen or involved in various space
activist groups like the National Space Society and the L5 Society
and so forth, and would debate people. Their comment was often, “Well,
I thought you were a space supporter, so why wouldn’t you support
going to Mars with the Soviets?”
I said, “Well, because it is not just our robots and our DNA
that’s out there.” To maybe make an inflammatory point,
I’d say things like, “Well, I don’t want to see
gulags on Mars.” It is overly narrow to say that there are not
values associated with who we decide to cooperate with. The Space
Station, for example, is a cooperation of democratic countries, some
more than others, but nonetheless democracies who engage in mixed-market
economies and some sense of a standard of respect for human rights.
Again, one can debate that in the case of individual countries, but
nonetheless that is a common aspect of the advanced countries.
So when we look at cooperation going out there, and we look at what
values we have, are we going to promote values of a market economy?
Are we going to promote values of a liberal, tolerant, democratic
culture? Are we going to just go with people who have technical capabilities,
never mind what values they represent, or are we going to try to behave
and act in ways on the space frontier that are not only consistent
with our science and exploration objectives but consistent with our
social ideals as well, however imperfectly expressed? That will be
the challenge going forward.
Johnson: You mentioned human and robotic
space flight, and that’s part of what NASA does. Another aspect
is the importance of aeronautics. What are your thoughts on the importance
of aeronautics and that part of it staying with NASA?
Pace: Well, aeronautics, interestingly,
is also reflective of what I said earlier about responding to what
are the priorities of the country. NACA [National Advisory Committee
for Aeronautics], NASA’s predecessor, was founded in 1915 in
part as a result of concern—an earlier version of Sputnik [Russian
satellite], if you will—that Europe was advancing beyond the
United States in aeronautical capabilities. Even though the first
flight had occurred in the United States with the Wrights [Orville
and Wilbur Wright] in 1903, by the period before World War I European
countries had advanced quite beyond us, and there was a concern that
we were losing our advantage there, and NACA was one of the responses;
so later when Sputnik had its political impact, and NASA was a response
to that, absorbing NACA.
Aeronautics is a relatively smaller part certainly of the agency’s
budget today, and, should it be more? Yes, there are certainly some
things that they could do more in, but it’s not the same environment.
The technical challenges are not the same as space. The issues that
aeronautical research have to face are not quite the same as they
were in the environment, say, again, World War I and II and so forth,
where people see as some of the golden age of aeronautical research
On the other hand, there are very important foundational questions
that aeronautics can and should answer. The experience I think of
is in STS-114, where we had the gap filler protruding out from underneath
the vehicle, and some of the nation’s best hypersonic aerodynamicists
could not tell you whether or not that would disturb the flow field
and change the flow on reentry from laminar to turbulent with the
consequent heat pulse change at Mach 23 or Mach 16 or Mach 8, and
there was lots of debates about it. The fact that what seemed to be
a very simple question did not have an answer from the best minds,
and therefore in order to minimize risks we put someone out on EVA
[extravehicular activity] on the end of an arm to pull the gap filler
out, a somewhat sporty maneuver, but this was seen as the lowest risk
thing to do in light of our ignorance about hypersonic reentry.
When we look at trying to land larger payloads on Mars, okay, we’ve
landed a couple of Rovers on Mars with air bags. We landed Viking
on Mars, which is a hefty-sized vehicle but did an all-propulsive
landing. When you start scaling up and think about landing humans
on Mars, thirty-, forty-metric-ton vehicles, it’s fairly clear
that we don’t know how to do that. An all-propulsive landing
would be very, very expensive in fuel. It’s hard to see how
that would be practical. On the other hand, the Martian atmosphere
is so thin that parachute systems would be the size of a football
stadium if we were going in that way. So Mars is large enough to have
a gravity field that makes a propulsive landing difficult. It’s
small enough that its atmosphere is so thin that the kind of aerodynamic
entries that one might do on Earth are not really practical as you
go up in weight.
So here is an area where in order for us to carry out space exploration
on planets with atmospheres, and there are several bodies in the solar
system, such as Titan, which do have atmospheres, that we need to
have advances in aerodynamics. These advances are in difficult, esoteric
areas such as hypersonics, which don’t have immediate commercial
issues, but are really fundamental research. So I think aeronautics
still has a strong role in NASA, but it’s in more in the foundational
NASA is an organization that responds to the needs of the country,
and there are clearly problems in air traffic control systems. The
FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] doesn’t have the necessary
R&D [research and development] capability. They are very, very
involved in operational issues. People are looking to NASA to do this,
to help with it. But we have not been really given the resources necessary
to fully do that. I think what people are seeing with aerodynamics
is that there are foundational issues that we should be working on.
There are other issues people would like us to work on but are not
able to provide the resources. So you’re seeing a debate over
what priority aeronautics should have.
Now, with the presidential policy on aeronautics—for the first
time one has come out—perhaps that will help in this priority
setting. But in an era of constrained resources, which is almost always
the case, we will have to do triage and set priorities, and people
will not like those results. This is the democratic conversation I
referred to earlier. There are useful things for us to do. There are
not adequate resources for us to do withal of them. Therefore decisions
need to be made. By what logic will we make those resources allocations?
I think what we’ve tried to do so far is to focus on those things
which are really unique to NASA, such as the foundational research,
rather than those things which could be done by others, such as some
of the air traffic control system changes. Now, we might get the assignment.
We might get told to do that, and if we get the resources, we will.
Again, NASA responds to the discretionary will of the President and
Congress. But it’s not clear that that will really happen, so
right now we’re trying to find those areas where there is consensus
for us to be working and not operate in those areas where there is
not yet a democratic consensus.
Wright: You mentioned, of course, working
for NASA when you were very young at $2.85 an hour. What would you
say to someone today that wanted to build a career and begin working
Pace: I guess one of the things I would
say is do they want a career in the space business, or do they want
a career in NASA, because there is all kinds of ways to participate
in the space business rather than working for NASA. I worked at JPL,
which is, you know, an FFRDC and part of Caltech [California Institute
of Technology], although associated obviously with NASA. It wasn’t
until 2001 that I came and actually joined NASA. So I had been in
the space business for twenty-five years but was not really part of
NASA. I worked on NASA contracts. I worked in FFRDCs for NASA. I worked
on policy issues that affected NASA, but I was not formally part of
I think that the question people should ask is what is it about space
that’s interesting, aside from thinking it’s cool. Sometimes
you go to space because that’s the only way to answer other
questions that you’re interested in. If you’re a biologist
or interested in advanced materials or you’re interested in
astrodynamics or something, you wind up in space as a means to an
end, not as an end in and of itself.
I was interested and continue to be interested a lot in commercial
space policy issues, because they are at this intersection between
public and private interests that I find very interesting, and they
have particularly interesting expression in policy debates between
these public and private interests over space issues. I think that
greater growing commercial space activities is good for the nation,
not only economically but also as part of U.S. leadership in the world.
It has an additional benefit that by encouraging growth of the commercial
sector you could ironically put pressure on NASA to rethink what things
it should be in versus what it should not be in.
I recall debates in the eighties, quite bitter, between NASA and the
Commerce Department where NASA deeply resented the intrusion of other
agencies into what it saw as its realm. It was willing to tolerate
the military world, off in its own separate realm, and that goes back
to the beginning of the space program really with the [Dwight D.]
Eisenhower administration. But the intrusion of these upstart agencies
such as Transportation and Commerce was not welcomed.
Those debates are largely gone now. They’re completely water
under the bridge and as a result NASA makes, I think, a bit more intelligent
decisions about how to involve the private sector. We still have lots
to do, as with the COTS Program, Commercial Orbital Transport System,
in buying commercial services. We’re still not at the point
of buying, say, microgravity aircraft services the way we probably
ought to be. We still don’t utilize as much of the commercial
sector as we could.
But nonetheless we can have those debates, whereas if you go back
in the eighties, the idea of commercial space being anything other
than a NASA contract was almost an oxymoron outside of the satellite
So having a richer ecosystem, if you will, in the space business,
I think, allows for NASA to have some healthy competition. It allows
it to really think what are its fundamental core capabilities that
it wants to work on, which are in my view, exploration and science,
not operating things. So we’ve gotten out of the aeronautics
business in many areas, large assets like wind tunnels. Four of our
ten field Centers are aeronautics based. But 40 percent of our budget
is not aeronautics based.
For those field Centers, if they are to be viable and healthy, have
to do those things that the President and the Congress are paying
NASA to do, which in large part is exploration and science. So they
have to get into the exploration and science business, not just the
aeronautics and R&D business. Other Centers that have been operational
and R&D Centers, say, like Johnson, their task in this new world
is to become more involved in doing spacecraft development work. That’s
work that they have not done in almost a generation.
There are major, major cultural changes that have to happen, even
at the manned space flight Centers, which on the surface look like
they’re well funded and healthy and large, but on the other
hand are facing fairly wrenching cultural changes that they’re,
I think, just now realizing.
So, where we’re going with the future is that there are many
different possibilities for young people to be involved, not just
as civil servants in a system, and I think they have to ask questions
about what business they want to be in—I was interested in space
business and then chose, because I thought it was important for the
nation and part of national interest and power and so forth, and I
chose to focus on commercial issues as a counterpoint, intentionally
not NASA, in order to stimulate changes that I thought would be healthier
for the nation as a whole.
Now with the Vision for Space Exploration, I came back into NASA to
work on those parts which I think the agency needs, which are better
management systems, better analytical systems—bringing analysis
to making decisions in a constrained environment so that you can preserve
and advance the vision, but in ways that are sustainable and logical
and that will have a buy-in for a long, long period of time. It is
not enough simply to have an inspirational speech and for people to
be inspired, because that can go when they walk out the door. You
have to build the mechanisms and the processes and the relationships
in to sustain those sorts of visions for a long period of time, because
emotion just is not enough.
So that’s a very roundabout answer. The obvious things for young
people are to have some literacy in math and science, but you don’t
have to be a scientist or engineer to be involved and to contribute
to space systems. But it is important to have some degree of self-knowledge
as to why you’re involved in this, and sometimes that takes
a while to answer for many people.
Wright: Well, thanks for your time.
Pace: Okay. Well, thank you.