Several months into his tenure as NASA Administrator, Sean
O'Keefe laid out his vision for the space agency in an April 12
speech. O'Keefe spoke at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of
Citizenship and Public Affairs, where he earned his Master's
degree in public administration and later taught. O'Keefe was
joined by NY Republican Reps. James Walsh, whose district
includes Syracuse University and who chairs the House VA/HUD
Appropriations Subcommittee, which is responsible for the NASA
budget, and by House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood
Excerpts from O'Keefe's speech are highlighted below. Some headings
have been added for clarity, and many paragraphs have been combined
in the interests of space. The full speech, which runs about 17 pages,
is available at http://www.nasa.gov/bios/vision.html.
While this speech does not go into detail about how he plans to address
the space station's cost difficulties, O'Keefe has previously testified
on this subject before Congress (see FYI #28).
"Part of my job as Administrator is to remind everyone of what
NASA does and what we are capable of doing. It's a responsibility
I take very seriously. I believe we are at a crossroad in NASA's
history.... We have an opportunity here and now to reinvigorate
the agenda and renew the entrepreneurial spirit present at NASA's
beginning a continued characteristic of American culture. Some
believe NASA has lost its focus and that the pioneering spirit,
the excitement of NASA's mission is gone. But believe me, that
spirit is alive and well. We intend to nourish it.
"The Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg said, 'The effort to
understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts
human life a little above the level of farce and gives it some of
the grace of tragedy.' Our effort to understand the universe is
to answer the most fundamental of questions. How did we get here?
Where are we going? Are we alone?
"What NASA needs now is a roadmap to continue our work in a more
efficient, collaborative manner. Our imperative is not only for
the sake of knowledge it is for our future and our security.
Today I am introducing a new strategic framework and vision for
NASA. It is a blueprint for the future of exploration. It is a
roadmap for achievement that we hope will improve the lives of
everyone in this country and everyone on this planet. That is a
bold statement, I know. But, I am confident in saying this
because the unique work that NASA does truly touches all of our
VISION FOR THE FUTURE: "This is NASA's vision for the future.
Our mandate is: to improve life here, to extend life to there, to find
"To improve life here is self-explanatory. From medical devices
to better tires, many of the products we use and experience every
day have their originsin NASA technology. The American taxpayers'
investment in NASA pays off every day in spin-off technology. But
that's not enough.... Now more than ever in our recent history,
it is important that we look at our country as whole, rallying
our assets and talents toward common goals. NASA's capabilities
can be marshaled to support the goal of providing for our
"The second point in the vision is to extend life to there. Where
is there? Everybody has a favorite candidate - and that's a good
thing - but wherever we want to go, we currently have a limited
means to get there and we must overcome these limitations.
"We will go where the science dictates that we go, not because
it's close or popular. We are going where the fundamental
questions that we seek to answer take us. That's the big change.
NASA's mission, which I'll discuss in a moment, must be driven by
the science, not by destination. And while policy and politics
and economics are inevitable factors, science must be the
"And that leads me to the final point in the vision - to find
life beyond. That is the fundamental, most compelling question
known to humankind. Are we alone in the universe?... NASA, with
telescopes, space-borne observatories, robotic and human
explorers, we will find out."
MISSION STATEMENT: "So, how do we get to that impressive
picture of the future? Part of the answer is by executing NASA's mission:
To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the Universe and
search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers...as only
NASA can.... Let me explain what this mission statement means and how
it charts our direction for the future."
"To understand and protect our home planet: We have come to
understand that the only way to really comprehend our climate and
to protect the scarce resources of our little blue planet is to
look at the Earth as a single, whole system.... From the unique
vantage point of space we can see, and more importantly, predict,
how dust storms in the Sahara will affect crops in the American
Midwest. From the unique vantage point of space we can predict
how mosquito-borne diseases will spread. From the unique vantage
point of space we can tell a farmer what part of her field needs
fertilizer and which part does not.
"The mission is to understand and protect our planet. Protection
includes using our scarce resources to improve life on Earth by
living in an environmentally sound manner. NASA's contribution
will be to help collect the data the President has called for to
frame the policy choices we must consider to meet the challenges
of climate change and establish responsible international
environmental standards. Protection of our planet also includes
changing our transportation systems on Earth so that they are
friendly, efficient and environmentally safe.... Protection of
our home planet includes sharing NASA's unique technology and
imagery with other government agencies, academia and industry, to
thwart those who seek to do harm or arrest trends that diminish
our quality of life."
"To the second theme: To explore the Universe and search for
life.... NASA will use its technology to explore, first with
robotic trailblazers, and eventually humans as driven by these
compelling scientific questions: How did we get here? Where are
we going? Are we alone?
"Next year we will launch the Space InfraRed Telescope Facility,
or SIRTF, the last of NASA's four Great Observatories.... SIRTF
will do for infrared astronomy what the Hubble Space Telescope
has done in its unveiling of the visible universe.
"The Galaxy Evolution Explorer, or GALEX scheduled to launch
later this year will use an ultraviolet telescope during its
two-year mission to explore the origin and evolution of galaxies
and the origins of stars and heavy elements.... These are just
two of a host of planned missions that will continue to force the
rewriting of the textbooks...
"Our third mission: To inspire the next generation of explorers.
Our mission of understanding and protecting our home planet and
exploring the Universe and searching for life will not be carried
out if we don't have the people do to it. Today, America has a
serious shortage of young people entering the fields of
mathematics and science.... We would be remiss in our public
trust if we do nothing to reverse this trend of scientific
proficiency.... What we have done in our vision of the future
and its mission roadmap is to make education a core mission
"That brings me to the last part of the mission statement we do
all these things AS ONLY NASA CAN.... The fact is that there
are things that only NASA can do and they would not get done if
NASA does not do them. But we have to avoid getting distracted
with challenges that call for simply incremental or marginal
improvements we must be dedicated to overcoming limits by finding
entirely new ways to achieve objectives.
"The biggest difference is that the mission is SCIENCE-DRIVEN
that it will be carried out in a new commitment to fiscal
responsibility and wise use of our assets, and with the synergy
that comes from working with other government agencies, industry
PRESIDENT'S MANAGEMENT AGENDA: "We will carry out these
grand objectives under the program set out by the President in his management
agenda. NASA, along with the rest of the federal government, will be:
Citizen-centered, results-oriented, market-based, actively promoting
innovation through competition, and by focusing on that which only NASA
can do and avoid duplicating that which may be achievable elsewhere.
The President has called for a government that is active but limited;
one that focuses on priorities and does them well.
"That same spirit is being brought to the work of management
reform. Rather than pursue an array of management initiatives,
the President has elected to identify the government's most
glaring problems and solve them. The President's Management
Agenda is a starting point for management reform, and the guide
to NASA's own reform in the way we do business, improving
performance and in the way we meet our objectives.
"Let me say a few words about how our vision for the future and
our mission statement, carried out under the terms of the
President's Management Agenda, will affect what you will see
coming from NASA in the next few years. The big sea change is
two-fold. First, as I said when I began this talk is the move to
science-driven missions. We will let the science of exploration
and discovery tell us where to go next. Second is to use
technology to enable advances and to view this as step functions
to facilitate greater achievements.
"For example, there is a necessary link and connection between
our human space flight program and our work in robotics. NASA
must eliminate the stovepipes and build an integrated strategy
that links human space flight and robotic space flight in a
stepping stone approach to exploration and discovery. The
synergy this will create is truly exciting. Serendipity is a big
player in invention and discovery; so is thinking outside the
box. Who knows what great things will come from having
exobiologists work with human factors specialists? The
possibilities are infinite. And, on the bean-counting
side...this approach leverages our resources tremendously. In
the next few years you will see robotic precursor missions and
crosscutting technologies developed to support exploration and
learning on the part of both humans and robots."
"...[T]he American people expect us to make good use of our
resources that is, our tax dollars. Our roadmap for the future
does just that. After the Mars mission setbacks, NASA undertook
a very critical assessment of what happened and the process that
lead to that failure. We are undertaking a similar critical
assessment started when it became clear that the space station
program was over-budget and are making changes. We learn from our
mistakes, correct the problems, and move on.... We are doing
things that have never been done before. Mistakes, incorrect
estimates, unforeseen problems are going to happen. If everything
were to move along without a hitch I would be suspicious that we
are not being bold enough, not fulfilling our mandate to push the
"But a prudent exercise of risk management requires the focus
a few absolutes. First, we must be selective in our pursuits,
which require NASA's unique talent. Being selective and focused
assures that we concentrate on working through the risks.
Second, we need to establish 'stretch goals' which will be risky
by definition but then again, if they weren't, others would be
pursuing them. But in selecting goals we must be honest with
ourselves as to the efforts and resources that will be required.
And once attained, we must manage these outcomes responsibly and
continually improve performance."
"As I've been telling you today, NASA has to do things
differently in the future. One fundamental difference is a need
to find new ways to explore the galaxy. Conventional rockets and
fuel simply aren't practical as we reach further out into the
cosmos. That's why we are launching an initiative to explore the
use of nuclear propulsion.... The technology is there. We just
need to take it to the next step to increase speed and on-orbit
time, thereby beginning to overcome this persistent technical
limitation. If we're going to pioneer the future as only NASA
can, we're going to need new ways to get us there."
EDUCATION MISSION: "A theme I've sought to weave through
the talk today has been the contributions and dedication of our people.
This way we have made not only inspiration, but also education, a core
mission component.... It is time for NASA to complete the mission to
send an educator into space to inspire and teach our young people. To
achieve that goal, shortly after completion of the core elements of
the International Space Station, expected in 2004, I am pleased to announce
Barbara Morgan has been selected to begin her mission as the first Educator
Mission Specialist. Mrs. Morgan's mission will be the first of a series
of flights in the new Educator Mission Specialist Program. Working in
partnership with Education Secretary Rod Paige, we will soon release
the details of our national recruitment program for follow-on missions."
"From the astronauts, to the scientists, to the engineers, to
people who provide administrative support, and now, to the
educators, this agency's greatest strength is the people who
devote their lives to NASA. We have an obligation in fact, a
sacred trust to keep that spirit alive, to ensure that there WILL
be a next generation of explorers. This is NASA's new vision for
the future: To improve life here, to extend life to there, to
find life beyond. This is the roadmap our people will follow
into this new millennium."