The images of Shuttle launches and earthrise over the rim of the moon are iconic representations of American strength, technical capacity, and the future of humankind. Yet NASA itself, the agency responsible for these images, is chronically underfunded, hounded by low-tech glitches, buffeted by changes in administrative direction, and currently without a clear next mission. How can this apparent contradiction be explained? Here the relationship between indicators of agency power, including budget, personnel, and program size measures and the indicators of size and scope of contracting is explored. I examine the agency's heavy reliance on contracting as a possible explanation for the uncertain direction and changes in course that characterize its recent history. Over time the agency has turned over greater responsibilities for project design and program management and even program direction to contractors until it was said, ―People used to come to NASA for information, now they come for a contract" (NASA 1995, 10). What can we learn about the impact of contracting on American bureaucratic power and autonomy? 2 Agency Autonomy and Contracting: NASA and the Aerospace Industry The images of Shuttle launches and earthrise over the rim of the moon are iconic representations of American strength, technical capacity, and of the future of humankind. Yet NASA itself, the agency responsible for these images, is chronically underfunded, hounded by low-tech glitches, buffeted by changes in administrative direction, and currently without a clear next mission (NPR 2010, Achenbach 2010). Most recently, President Obama has proposed the cancellation of the Constellation program designed to create a permanent human presence on the moon in preparation for crewed Mars exploration. In its stead, the Administration advocates a longer time line toward a ―flexible path‖ to other objectives within the solar system including eventually the moon, asteroids, and Mars depending on technical innovations and the availability of funding. In addition, it has turned transportation to the Space Station in low earth orbit over to private aerospace firms. Congressional members whose districts are affected by reduced funding at NASA Centers, former astronauts and some NASA administrators have been outspoken critics of these changes (Achenbach 2010, NPR 2010, Clark 2010, Cowling 2010). Altogether these events call into question the image of the agency as powerful and autonomous. How can the contrast between the public image of the agency and its political and bureaucrat realities be accounted for? A number of explanations have been advanced. The enormous cost of the programs requires the agency to justify its existence on other than scientific terms. Thus the agency has been forced to operate under a shifting array of externally defined missions and purposes and to compromise its science and engineering objectives to find enough support to survive. These missions include preserving the health of the aerospace industry for economic and military purposes, creating jobs for workers and for new generations of scientists and engineers, and maintaining national security and national prestige (Kay 2005). Alternatively, NASA is seen as being more autonomous than it appears by strategically juggling its missions to maximize external support to acquire resources for its primary objective—the preservation of a human space exploration program (Handberg 2003).