These external customers have exceedingly diverse goals, needs, time horizons, and technical capabilities. The missions range from supplying quasi-public goods (air transportation safety) to supporting commercial activities. The users range from highly sophisticated aircraft, engine, and other component manufacturers to a federal government entity, such as the arm of FAA operating the nation’s air traffic control system, with limited incentives and technical capabilities to innovate.
What NASA’s customers and users have in common, however, is that they are operators, managers, and developers of complex systems (aircraft, engines, avionic subsystems, air traffic control hardware and software), entailing the integration of many technology advances. Discrete technologies, however technically successful, may not be incorporated into these systems. In that case, they do not represent innovations.
Among federal R&D agencies, NASA supports a very broad range of activities—from basic research through demonstration of specific technologies.
NASA aeronautics is overshadowed in resources, managerial attention, and political support by the agency’s principal mission of space exploration and discovery. The difference in status between aeronautics and space is if anything more pronounced since President Bush’s announcement of a new mission to return human beings to the moon and eventually send them on to Mars.
In addition to these facts of life, NASA aeronautics officials also recognize that there have been advances in private- and public-sector innovation management that might be applied or adapted to their tasks. For these reasons, ARMD asked the National Academies’ Board on Science, Technology, and Economic Policy to recommend tools, techniques, and practices that might facilitate and accelerate aeronautics innovation involving the results of NASA’s R&D activities. Interpreting the charge to focus on the deployment of NASA-developed technologies by users outside the agency, the National Academies appointed an ad hoc study committee composed of academic experts in technology management and public administration and people experienced in the development of a variety of technologies directly and indirectly related to aeronautics.
In attempting to address this task, the committee was soon struck by the growing discrepancy between the needs said to be served by the pro-