established those requirements, the agency had a total of approximately 1650 persons in these categories involved in other projects. The committee concluded that although many of the employees required in the mission operations category could be transitioned from the Space Shuttle program, many of the 250-350 full-time employees needed in the program/project management and systems engineering and integration engineering competencies are unlikely to currently reside in the agency and will have to be acquired from industry. NASA last had substantial in-house involvement in human spaceflight systems engineering in the 1970s, during the design phase of the Space Shuttle program, and the people skilled in human spaceflight are now likely to exist only in industry.
Although human and robotic systems are distinct, they do share many management and engineering process as well as system technical characteristics. Given that the bulk of the development activities over the past 10 years have been in robotic spacecraft, NASA needs to leverage the robotic spacecraft workforce skill development opportunities to meet some of the human spaceflight program development skill needs. The committee believes that systems engineering methodology and technical skills acquired from complex robotic spacecraft development can serve as an important base for the transition to systems engineering of human spacecraft.
A problem faced by the committee was a lack of data, as well as differing interpretations of future requirements for certain skills and an absence of information correlating levels of expertise required with the numbers of employees anticipated to be needed. Based on available demographic data, however, the committee concluded that, in the broadest sense, there is no looming national shortage of skilled scientists and engineers to implement the VSE over the long term. For example, the committee saw no evidence of a downturn in the national supply of new talent in aerospace engineering and space sciences. The supply of and the demand for new aerospace workers appear to be relatively well matched at present, as evidenced in part by the fact that salaries in aerospace engineering are not increasing sharply relative to those in other fields.4 Although the committee acknowledges the difficulties in predicting future demand for particular labor skills, it notes that past predictions of substantially increased demand for aerospace workers have not been borne out in reality. However, the committee also notes that both NASA and the aerospace industry employ engineers from many different fields besides aerospace engineering, such as electrical engineering and mechanical engineering, making a comparison of supply and demand for NASA more complicated than it would at first appear.
Much of the workforce on which NASA has historically relied, and will continue to rely, exists outside the agency: Most of the engineers who work on NASA projects are in industry, and most of the scientists are at universities. Retaining the proper numbers of each component of the broader aerospace workforce poses fundamentally different challenges. For example, engineers in industry generally have to rely less on NASA for the long-term financial stability of their projects than do scientists in universities, who often cannot move to military or commercial projects if NASA’s support for their work ends. Science talent might be lost and not readily regained even a few years later if NASA withdraws support for scientific research even for a limited period and scientists leave the field or are unwilling to return to NASA-sponsored work for which funding has proven unstable in the past. Thus, the policies that NASA pursues to sustain the workforce outside the agency will, and must, be different for scientists and engineers.
Furthermore, because NASA represents only a fraction of the overall aerospace workforce, the agency’s current workforce and its potential workforce are affected by numerous other government agencies, industry, and academia. In some cases, NASA must compete directly with these organizations for appropriately skilled workers. The committee therefore concluded that some method of coordinating overall strategies concerning aerospace workforce issues between related institutions, such as NASA and the Department of Defense, would be valuable.
The agency also has to address the retention and development of NASA’s in-house workforce. NASA’s policies for ensuring sufficient in-house talent will possibly diverge from those it pursues for maintaining and accessing the external workforce.
In considering these issues, the committee sought in particular to identify requirements common to both the scientific and the engineering talent needed within as well as from outside the agency. Ultimately, the committee concluded that the salient requirement was the need for junior-level members of the workforce—including current