NASA is laying the groundwork for an independent study of its human spaceflight goals and capabilities between 2014 and 2023 as directed in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010. The law, which U.S. President Barack Obama signed in October, directs NASA to contract with the U.S. National Academies to undertake the review in 2012.

Laurie Leshin, deputy associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, said the agency will spend the next several months preparing a statement of task for the study. In remarks March 30 during the three-day Goddard Symposium in Greenbelt, Md., Leshin said a 10-year “decadal” survey would afford an opportunity to broadly engage human spaceflight stakeholders, but cautioned that basing such a study on the science community’s model of prioritizing space research objectives every 10 years may not be a good fit.

“I come from the science world so I’m very familiar with the decadal survey-type approach,” Leshin said, referring to the U.S. National Research Council’s 10-year reviews of Earth and space science goals that are “pretty narrowly focused on not just science but individual, fairly narrow science disciplines.”

Specifically, the National Research Council breaks down its surveys of space-science objectives into four categories: Earth and climate science, astrophysics, heliophysics and planetary science disciplines. These 10-year plans help shape NASA policy and guide strategic investments to fund a mix of robotic explorer missions in support of science community goals.

“This is actually a really tough nut to crack,” Leshin said of the congressionally mandated study of human spaceflight goals.

“I would ask that we not call it a decadal survey because I think it’s too big for that. I think we’ve got to … keep it at a higher level,” she said. “I think it’s a great opportunity and we’re really working to try to take advantage of it.”