Marc Fusco

Date of Award

January 2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Space Studies

First Advisor

David J. Whalen


The two most important decisions in the history of NASA after its founding have been John Kennedy's decision to send humans to the moon and Richard Nixon's decision to develop the space shuttle. This study examines the nature of each decision, and illustrates how each decision resulted from a confluence of world events, presidential personalities, and domestic political pressures.

This examination of both primary and secondary historical and policy source materials demonstrates that the individual personalities of each president, especially how each reacted to domestic and international political and economic pressures, played a major role in the formulation of these space policy decisions. Furthermore, the presidential election of 1960 played a critical role in determining the focus of NASA's activities from the early 1960s to this day.

These policy decisions directly shaped the nature of NASA's human spaceflight program in the short term, but had unintended consequences in the long term. While each decision produced spectacular results in the moon landings and in the space shuttle program, each decision affected NASA's ultimate growth and curtailed other space-related projects that had been proposed.