Implications of Joint NASA/DOD Participation in Space Shuttle Operations

NSIAD-84-13: Published: Nov 7, 1983. Publicly Released: Nov 23, 1983.


Richard Davis
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Office of Public Affairs
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided its assessment of joint National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Department of Defense (DOD) participation in space shuttle operations and Air Force activities concerned with developing and acquiring a dedicated DOD shuttle operations control facility.

GAO found that, with the advent of the space shuttle, a trend has developed toward increasingly integrated NASA/DOD space operations. However, this relationship is complicated by the agencies' differing missions and objectives. This is particularly true with respect to DOD requirements for classified operations. A large portion of the cost burden for many military shuttle requirements is being borne by NASA, and extensive, long-term NASA support to DOD will be required for launch and landing operations, tracking and data acquisition services, and backup to DOD mission control systems. While NASA support to DOD is growing, the civilian program's future direction is not clear because the organization of future shuttle operations is undecided, and overall civilian space goals are still being defined. With the assistance of NASA, DOD is developing a shuttle operations and planning complex to be used solely for military missions. The complex would be equipped with the higher levels of security needed for such missions and would provide direct and exclusive military control of shuttle flight operations. However, GAO found that the development costs and system design options being considered for the complex could reduce the mission effectiveness of DOD.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matter for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: Congress should consider requiring the reestablishment of a mechanism similar to the disbanded National Aeronautics and Space Council, as discussed in an Office of Technology Assessment report, to obtain high level attention to space matters and achieve balanced agency interaction.

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we determine what steps the Congress has taken, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Administrator, NASA, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense, should assist Congress by expediting efforts to define how a fully operational shuttle program will be managed and controlled in the future. Such a definition should include: (1) agency roles and responsibilities; (2) performance criteria for the shuttle system which clearly define both the defense and civil capabilities and interoperability requirements; and (3) alternatives for providing backup capability for the DOD space program.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: A September 1, 1985, Audit Report Tracking System update discusses several initiatives that have been completed or will soon be completed that satisfy this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Air Force to defer shuttle operations and planning complex implementation until NASA and DOD fully identify the systems configuration needed to support a fully operational shuttle system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD does not intend to defer SOPC implementation because it believes that the SOPC configuration to support a fully operational shuttle system currently exists. DOD indicated that deferring would interrupt a competitive design phase currently in process and would prevent determination of the final system configuration and costs.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Air Force to establish and validate functional system requirements which accurately reflect the DOD full exploitation operational concept, taking into consideration the eventual shuttle operations system configuration.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Even though the Air Force claims to have validated SOPC system requirements, these requirements have been developed based on the overall DOD strategy to replicate the current NASA shuttle planning and control systems. Requirements based on this replication strategy will not allow DOD to satisfy unique interfaces and to incorporate more complex shuttle/payload operations.

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