As the 1960s came to a close, NASA could proudly look back at the past decade as one of significant achievements and triumphs. In a relatively short span of time, NASA's great feats in space exploration had allowed the United States to pass the Soviet Union as the unquestioned leader in this endeavor. A decade of spectacular space voyages had been crowned on July 20, 1969, when NASA landed the first human on the moon. NASA hoped that in the next decade the agency would accomplish new and equally spectacular achievements in space exploration. The proposed program of space exploration for the next two decades, submitted to the President in 1969 by the NASA Space Task Group, delineated such projects as a Mars manned mission, a lunar surface base, a lunar orbital space station, an earth orbital space station, and reusable space shuttles.
Paradoxically, it was at this moment of NASA's great triumphs that the tide of public opinion began to turn. NASA's very success--catching up to and overtaking the Soviet space program--dulled the public's appetite for new sensational feats in space. Furthermore, the increasingly unpopular war in Vietnam fully preoccupied the public's attention, placed a heavy burden on the nation's economy, strained the Government budget, and generated a host of domestic problems. NASA's annual budget, which had reached $5 billion in the mid-1960s and stood at almost $4 billion in 1969, was reduced to $3.7 billion in 1970 and just over $3 billion in 1974.
The cuts in the NASA budget had a considerable impact on the agency. Grandiose space programs were eschewed in favor of more modest and, from the public's point of view, practical programs. Thus, of the programs suggested in 1969 by the NASA's Space Task Group, only the development of the Space Shuttle was approved, in 1972. And the approved Space Shuttle project was a more economical and scaled down version than the one originally envisioned by NASA. Funds appropriated for research and development were reduced, not only because of cuts in the overall NASA budget but also because an increasing share of NASA funds went for administrative operations. In 1969 almost $3.4 billion was appropriated for research and development. In 1974 the figure fell to a low of $2.2 billion, rising again to slightly over $3 billion in 1978.
 Cuts in the NASA budget had an impact on the growth and development of the individual NASA installations as well. Although one could hardly have expected the extensive growth and expansion of NASA facilities during 1958-68 to continue into the next decade, some expansion of NASA facilities likely would have occurred if NASA's budget had not been cut. As it was, NASA underwent a process of consolidation and reduction of its facilities during 1969-78. The best examples of this were the closing of the Electronics Research Center as a NASA installation in 1970 and the transfer of its facilities to the Department of Transportation and also the disestablishment of the Space Nuclear Systems Office in 1973.
The change in the nature and emphasis of research and development carried out by NASA during the second decade of its existence was reflected in the quantity and composition of its personnel. Between 1969 and 1978, the number of NASA in-house employees was reduced by almost 10,000, or by about a third of what it was in 1969. The reduced work force contained, however, an increasingly large percentage of scientists and engineers and other personnel with professional degrees. In addition, there was a marked increase during this period in the number of minority employees at NASA. Minority employees made particularly impressive gains among NASA's professional administrative ranks. There was also a slight increase in the percentage of women employed by NASA during the 1969-78 period. Like minority employees, women achieved their greatest gains in professional administrative positions.
In spite of the considerable cuts in its funding and personnel, during the 1969-78 decade NASA continued to push forward in space exploration and to make important advances in the development of spacecraft technology. Many of the NASA projects that were begun during the previous decades endured into the 1970s. The Apollo lunar exploration continued until December 1972 with the launching of Apollo 17, the last launch of the Apollo moon program. The Mariner space probes of Mars in 1969 and 1971 were followed by the Mariner probe of the planet Mercury in 1974. In 1972 Pioneer 10 began its successful year and one-half journey to the planet Jupiter. Pioneer 11 repeated the journey in 1973 and then flew toward the planet Saturn. A Viking probe of Mars in 1976 was followed by a Voyager flight to Jupiter in 1977 and a Pioneer probe of Venus in 1978. These and other flights to the planets of our solar system marked a period of intensive study of the planets in search of knowledge that could explain the mysteries of the earth itself.
Concurrently with the exploration of the planets, NASA was pursuing programs that had tangible and immediate impact on earth-related problems. In the 1970s, a number of satellites were launched into orbit around the earth. These satellites, such as the Earth Resources Technology Satellite launched in July 1972, scanned the earth and provided real-time information on such topics as crop inventory and crop health, water storage, air and water pollution, forest diseases and forest fires, and coastal and oceanic movements. Although unmanned satellites performed the bulk of research in space, manned space flight was not neglected. Instead of sending  astronauts on a distant journey to the planets, however, NASA's Skylab project called for man to live and perform experiments in a space laboratory orbiting around the earth. The Skylab, an unmanned space workshop, was launched by a Saturn V rocket and placed into an earth orbit in May 1973. Eleven days later, a manned Apollo command and service module combination was launched into orbit by another Saturn rocket and docked with the workshop. The first crew spent twenty-eight days aboard the Skylab, proving that humans could live and work in space.
Increasingly, the satellites put into orbit by NASA during this period were performing research and experiments for other Government agencies, private corporations, and even foreign governments. The increased cooperation in space exploration between the United States and other countries led to one of the more striking feats in space. In July 1975, the United States and the Soviet Union carried out a joint space venture, the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, when an orbiting Soviet Soyuz spacecraft rendezvoused and docked with a American Apollo spacecraft. The two spacecraft then proceeded to exchange crews and conduct joint experiments.
In its second decade of existence, from 1969 to 1978, NASA achieved notable successes. After the enormous achievement of landing a man on the moon in 1969, NASA went on to other missions, including sending space probes to explore other planets in our solar system, orbiting satellites to study the earth, establishing an orbiting space laboratory, and performing space exploration jointly with other countries. As the next decade dawned, NASA was embarked on new ventures, chief among them the Space Shuttle program, to fulfill its commitment to maintaining United States leadership in space exploration.