The committee interpreted a “sustained” program in the first bulleted point of the VSE as one that will deliver value to its stakeholders now, and in such a way that it will not fail to deliver value in the future (this interpretation is consistent with the language of the hallmark Brundtland report on sustainability).2 In the context of space exploration, this implies that the program should deliver benefits to its stakeholders (enumerated as the nation’s “scientific, security and economic interests” in the VSE, and by reference others cited in the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, P.L. 85-568, as amended). In addition, a sustainable program of exploration must be affordable, must be robustly supportable in the political community, must seek the lowest practical level of risk to human life, and must clearly communicate the residual risk to key stakeholders.
The committee interprets the challenge of “a human return to the Moon” in the second bulleted point as being integral with “preparation for human exploration of Mars.” One of the stated objectives of the policy and of NASA for a return to the Moon is to develop the technology, systems, and workforce capable of succeeding at the far more difficult challenge of Mars exploration.
In considering the third bulleted point, the committee believes that in this study it is particularly responsible for critiquing the critical role chartered for technology not only to explore but also “to support decisions [emphasis added] about the destinations for human exploration.” This phrasing implies to the committee that the technology program should be a thought-leading element of the exploration program, enabling new approaches to a sustainable campaign of exploration.
The fourth bulleted point touches on the need for the ETDP to engage the external community in technology development both commercially and internationally in order to further its interests. Thus the committee examined how the ETDP is engaging the external community.
Because exploratory voyages lead to an understanding of the unknown, the benefits of exploration cannot be defined precisely in advance. The committee believes, however, that the development of technology for those exploratory missions can independently contribute value to the nation’s stakeholders, in particular, given the following:
Preparing for exploration accelerates the development of technologies important for U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests;
Inspiring young people to seek careers in science and engineering is critical to U.S. future competitiveness; and
Discovering new knowledge about the universe will stimulate human thought and creativity in the sciences and the humanities.
Specifically, the committee was asked to review the technology program supporting NASA’s exploration endeavor. Under the current NASA organization, the human exploration aspect of the VSE is entrusted to the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD). To meet its objectives, the ESMD must develop the enabling technologies for its missions of exploration. NASA’s ETDP is part of the Advanced Capabilities theme of ESMD, which also includes the Human Research Program (HRP) and the Lunar Precursor Robotic Program (Figure 1.1). As is emphasized in the committee’s findings and recommendations in Chapter 3, the interface between the ETDP (assigned the engineering portion of Advanced Capabilities) and the HRP (assigned the human portion of Advanced Capabilities) is vital and should be carefully maintained. In addition, the Lunar Precursor Robotic Program could offer a possible opportunity for technology demonstration that has not yet been realized.
The ETDP develops new technologies that will enable NASA to conduct future human and robotic exploration missions, while reducing mission risk and cost. At present, the primary customers of the ETDP are the designers of flight systems in the Constellation Program, which is developing the Orion Crew Vehicle, Altair Lunar Lander, and Ares Launch Vehicles. As discussed in Chapter 4, the committee is concerned about the ETDP’s focus on near-term technologies to support these vehicles, which are all designed to operate in a relatively short duration