Administrative Leadership and Long-Term Technology: NASA and the International Space Station

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7 Scopus citations


How does a nation geared to short-term politics achieve technological goals that stretch over decades? That is a cardinal question of U.S. space policy. The International Space Station (ISS) provides an important case study. Known originally as Space Station Freedom, it was initiated in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan to project U.S. leadership and compete with the Soviet Union's space station program. NASA subsequently brought in Europe, Japan, and Canada as partners. The Clinton-Gore Administration reinvented “Freedom” as the International Space Station in 1993, enlisting Russia as NASA's post-Cold War senior partner. ISS construction was completed in 2011 under President Barack Obama, who extended its utilization period until 2024. President Donald Trump has proposed ending funding in 2025 in favor of commercial take-over. This article uses a policy history of the space station for insights about how NASA Administrators advanced or impeded this long-term program. It employs the concept of “relay leadership” to show how a leader moved this program from one state of evolution, and another continued it to the next point. To accomplish any future long-term technological program, such as a Moon base or mission to Mars, NASA will need to apply policy lessons from the ISS experience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)85-93
Number of pages9
JournalSpace Policy
StatePublished - Feb 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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