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Review of NASA Plans for the International Space Station
Using the ISS to Support Exploration Missions
The panel saw no evidence of an integrated resource utilization plan for use of the ISS in support of the exploration missions. Presentations that covered some elements of criteria and processes for determining priorities for utilization of the ISS for different exploration missions demonstrated poor definition of those criteria and processes. In particular, the materials presented to the panel did not seem to take into account the effects that assigning high priority to one mission would have on factors such as the ability to complete another, perhaps later mission, because of depletion of necessary resources or limitations imposed by necessary lead times.
Recommendation: NASA should develop an agency-wide, integrated utilization plan for all ISS activities as soon as possible. Such a planning effort should explicitly encompass the full development of the Exploration Systems Architecture Study technology requirements, migration of current ISS payloads to meet those requirements, identification of remaining gaps unfilled by current ISS payloads, and the R&D and technology or operations payloads needed to fill those gaps. An iterative process that includes Exploration Systems Mission Directorate stakeholders and the external scientific and technical community should be employed to ensure that the as-flown experiments closely match the integrated ISS utilization plan.
Recommendation: Scheduled periodic reviews of the ISS utilization plan with the participation of a broad group of stakeholders (internal and external, scientific and operations) are needed to ensure that the plan remains appropriate and that it continues to promote an integrated approach to attaining the ultimate program goals.
Including Research and Development as an Objective for ISS Utilization
The ISS represents a unique platform for conducting enabling R&D for exploration missions, particularly a Mars mission. Enabling research was not noted as an objective of ISS support for exploration missions. The panel noted with concern this apparent gap in understanding the value of the ISS for exploration missions. Even in an era of extremely limited resources, the ISS may well represent the only timely opportunity to conduct the R&D that is necessary to solve exploration problems and reduce crew and mission risks prior to a Mars mission.
Recommendation: NASA should state that the objective for ISS utilization in support of exploration missions is to conduct enabling research for (1) technologies for exploration, (2) ways to maintain crew health and performance for missions beyond low Earth orbit, and (3) development of an operational capability for long-distance flights beyond low Earth orbit.
Recommendation: Based on the involvement of a broad base of experts and a rigorous and transparent prioritization process, NASA should develop and maintain a set of research experiments to be conducted aboard the ISS that would enable the full suite of exploration missions. These experiments should be fully integrated into the ISS utilization process.
Planning ISS Utilization to Support the Demonstration of Operations for Exploration
The ISS represents a unique platform with which to conduct operations demonstrations in microgravity. For a Mars mission, where significant periods of the mission will occur in microgravity because of the long travel times en route to and returning from Mars, the ISS may prove the only facility with which to conduct critical operations demonstrations needed to reduce risks and certify advanced