2
Cross-Cutting Issues

At the conclusion of the site visits to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Johnson Space Center, and the Glenn Research Center, the committee came away with an appreciation of the enormity of the task faced by the NASA workforce engaged in the Exploration Technology Development Program (ETDP), especially in light of the constraints imposed by a limited budget relative to the exploration goals, the timescale laid out to meet the requirements of the Vision for Space Exploration (VSE), and the desire to fully employ the NASA workforce at all of its centers. In spite of these constraints, the committee was impressed with the intensity of the effort, the dedication and enthusiasm of the personnel to play a part in contributing to the VSE, the degree to which inter-NASA-center cooperation has developed, and the fact that all 10 NASA centers are engaged in the program.

Reflecting on these visits and the subsequent investigation and analysis, the committee cites the following specific issues that cut across individual project lines; these issues will receive further analysis in the next months, and findings and recommendations will appear in the committee’s final report, to be released in the summer of 2008.

  1. Some of the ETDP projects are carried out primarily within NASA centers. As a result, NASA is not taking advantage of expertise available in the university and industrial sectors that could support more rapid and higher-quality early research and development. The committee therefore concluded that the speed and efficiency with which NASA could move forward on these projects are being compromised.

  2. The committee notes a general tendency toward an incremental approach to ETDP developments, with the bulk of ETDP funding going to incremental advances on existing technologies. The committee questions whether this approach can allow NASA to successfully undertake and accomplish the innovative research goals of the VSE, especially as a lack of innovative R&D will discourage the entry of young researchers into the field and thus decrease the nation’s ability to build the future workforce needed to conduct the VSE.

  3. Many of the technology development projects reviewed by the committee tended to focus on supporting near-term aspects of the VSE. Some were linked exclusively to Orion and Ares 1, and others to the lunar surface access module and lunar surface operations. The committee did not find evidence that the extensibility of technologies to the exploration of Mars is a routine consideration. A possible consequence is the development of technologies that will not be extensible to the full VSE, which was the criterion mandated by NASA for evaluation in this National Research Council (NRC) review.

  4. It was apparent that NASA is now funding much less research at low technology readiness levels (TRLs) in-house and in the university community than in the past. The committee was not clear as to how, in the absence of low-TRL research, the technologies required over the next 10-30 years will be developed and made available for future programs, or how the future expertise required by both NASA and the contractor community will be generated. The significant reduction and/or termination of low-TRL research, and the concomitant lack of personnel to either conduct the research or apply it, will have major negative impacts on the ability of the United States to participate in future human exploration programs.



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2 Cross-Cutting Issues At the conclusion of the site visits to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Johnson Space Center, and the Glenn Research Center, the committee came away with an appreciation of the enormity of the task faced by the NASA workforce engaged in the Exploration Technology Development Program (ETDP), especially in light of the constraints imposed by a limited budget relative to the exploration goals, the timescale laid out to meet the requirements of the Vision for Space Exploration (VSE), and the desire to fully employ the NASA workforce at all of its centers. In spite of these constraints, the committee was impressed with the intensity of the effort, the dedication and enthusiasm of the personnel to play a part in contributing to the VSE, the degree to which inter-NASA-center cooperation has developed, and the fact that all 10 NASA centers are engaged in the program. Reflecting on these visits and the subsequent investigation and analysis, the committee cites the following specific issues that cut across individual project lines; these issues will receive further analysis in the next months, and findings and recommendations will appear in the committee’s final report, to be released in the summer of 2008. 1. Some of the ETDP projects are carried out primarily within NASA centers. As a result, NASA is not taking advantage of expertise available in the university and industrial sectors that could support more rapid and higher-quality early research and development. The committee therefore concluded that the speed and efficiency with which NASA could move forward on these projects are being compromised. 2. The committee notes a general tendency toward an incremental approach to ETDP developments, with the bulk of ETDP funding going to incremental advances on existing technologies. The committee questions whether this approach can allow NASA to successfully undertake and accomplish the innovative research goals of the VSE, especially as a lack of innovative R&D will discourage the entry of young researchers into the field and thus decrease the nation’s ability to build the future workforce needed to conduct the VSE. 3. Many of the technology development projects reviewed by the committee tended to focus on supporting near-term aspects of the VSE. Some were linked exclusively to Orion and Ares 1, and others to the lunar surface access module and lunar surface operations. The committee did not find evidence that the extensibility of technologies to the exploration of Mars is a routine consideration. A possible consequence is the development of technologies that will not be extensible to the full VSE, which was the criterion mandated by NASA for evaluation in this National Research Council (NRC) review. 4. It was apparent that NASA is now funding much less research at low technology readiness levels (TRLs) in-house and in the university community than in the past. The committee was not clear as to how, in the absence of low-TRL research, the technologies required over the next 10-30 years will be developed and made available for future programs, or how the future expertise required by both NASA and the contractor community will be generated. The significant reduction and/or termination of low-TRL research, and the concomitant lack of personnel to either conduct the research or apply it, will have major negative impacts on the ability of the United States to participate in future human exploration programs. 43

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5. In a number of areas, mission-critical tests⎯i.e., a system or subsystem model or prototype demonstration in an operational environment⎯are not included in the program, usually as a result of a lack of time (scheduling) and/or funding to carry out necessary flight tests or to develop needed test facilities. Specific examples were identified in the following programs: 02 Ablative Thermal Protection System for the Crew Exploration Vehicle, 03 Lunar Dust Mitigation, 05 Cryogenic Fluid Management, 09 Integrated Systems for Health Management, 11 Intelligent Software Design, 12 Autonomous Landing and Hazardous Avoidance Technology, 19 In Situ Resource Utilization, 20 Fission Surface Power, and 22 Human-Robotic Systems/Analogs. Not including these tests may limit the TRL to which the technologies can be advanced and may increase mission risk. Although near-term budgetary pressures are clear, the need for adequate testing is a recurrent theme in program failure reports and should be addressed. Many of these cross-cutting issues will form the basis of the findings and recommendations to be elaborated on in the committee’s final report. The committee hopes that the observations made in this interim report will contribute to the ultimate success of the Exploration Technology Development Program. 44

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Appendixes

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