Avoiding Costly Delays in Human Space Exploration: Historical Perspectives on NASA Programs

Avoiding Costly Delays thumbnail
Published Date


This paper examines the historical impact of major changes in the human space exploration program objectives at NASA and draws lessons from those experiences that may be of value to current and future administrations. We trace the history of NASA’s human exploration programs through various presidential administrations, starting with the George H. W. Bush administration to the present day. Along the way we identify and document the sources of program changes and make observations about what went well (and what did not), exposing the true cost and other consequences of disruptive change. We also highlight the importance of making necessary changes when something is not right. Presidential administration changes and annual budget deliberations are times of great opportunity but also of great risk, and decisions need to be made with eyes wide open, not only to the potential benefits but also to the unintended negative consequences some changes may have. These factors need to be considered by a new administration and Congress when they are faced with decisions to change things or “stay the course.” The lessons may apply well beyond NASA.

Authors: David Eccles, Cristina Guidi, Thomas Rathjen