FIGURE 5.4 SpaceShipOne underneath its carrying aircraft. This project, inspired by the Ansari X PRIZE, was a low-cost effort relative to similar government programs. But it also offered a model of how to attract innovation and new workers to the field of aerospace development. SOURCE: Courtesy of Scaled Composites, LLC.

need to be able to sustain a high level of teaching and research expertise across all of the disciplines mentioned above and be able to support the full range of activities comprised by the research process.

The Vision for Space Exploration will require considerable investment in basic engineering sciences, particularly in fluid flow (not understood for microgravity environments), combustion, formal methods for software verification, protection from space radiation, and many other areas. Some of this work is needed in a short timeframe, and that work will probably be undertaken most effectively at NASA laboratories. But the VSE will require continued effort to develop systems that can function in the challenging environment of space. Research in these areas naturally falls into the category of investigation that is effectively carried out in university laboratories with the support of NASA programs.5


Since its establishment, NASA’s support of academic research and teaching has been reciprocated by academia’s contribution of expert advice in formulating mission plans, planning mission architecture, developing innovative instrumentation and spacecraft systems, and so on. Academic engineers offer a breadth of experience and lessons learned across many industries to bear on problems vital to the success of the VSE, and they can provide NASA independent guidance on what issues to examine and how to look at them. The availability of “on-demand” expertise through the academic sector increases NASA’s capabilities in ways that would be extremely costly if NASA were to attempt to sustain in-house expertise in all conceivable specialties. The aerospace industry


See, for instance, NRC, Assessment of Balance in NASA’s Science Programs, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2006, pp. 24-28 and 31-32, for a discussion of the need for research in microgravity sciences.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement