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A Constrained Space Exploration Technology Program: A Review of NASA’s Exploration Technology Development Program
that target sustainability and extensibility to long-term lunar and Mars missions, thus opening the TRL pipeline, re-engaging the academic community, and beginning to incorporate the innovation in technology development that will be necessary to complete the VSE.
Involvement of the Broader Community
One of the ESMD’s requirements for the ETDP is that projects “engage national, international, commercial, scientific, and public participation in exploration to further U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests.”9 Interaction with external peers can take a number of forms and should occur throughout the research life cycle. Because of limited budgets and the pressure to fully employ the NASA workforce at “ten healthy centers,” the ETDP has emphasized internal endeavors. Although in many cases technology development internal to NASA is most appropriate because of NASA’s unique capabilities, infrastructure, and superior skills, there are other cases in which academia, research laboratories, or industry may be better suited to performing the research. However, even when research is performed outside NASA, it is critical that NASA develop and maintain subject-matter expertise so that it can effectively direct and interact with these external research efforts.
Finding: Some ETDP projects have made alliances with others in the broader community that will add to the effectiveness or efficiency of the project. However, the committee observes that in general, the ETDP has not taken advantage of many external resources that could potentially reduce cost or schedule pressure, aid in the development of NASA’s proposed technology, and/or provide alternative and backup technologies.
Finding: In many cases, ETDP projects do not take advantage of external technical peer review.
Finding: While many ETDP projects are technically or programmatically led by distinguished NASA personnel, certain other projects would benefit significantly from having a nationally recognized technical expert on the leadership team.
Finding: In the transition to the ETDP’s current structure, NASA has terminated support for hundreds of graduate students. The development of human resources for future space activities may be significantly curtailed by reductions in NASA support for university faculty, researchers, and students.
Recommendation: The Exploration Technology Development Program should institute external advisory teams for each project that (1) undertake a serious examination of potential external collaborations and identify those that could enhance project efficiency, (2) conduct peer review of existing internal activities, and (3) participate in a number of significant design reviews for the project.
Recommendation: The Exploration Systems Mission Directorate should implement cooperative research programs that support the Exploration Technology Development Program (ETDP) mission with qualified university, industry, or national laboratory researchers, particularly in low-technology-readiness-level projects. These programs should both support the ETDP mission and develop a pipeline of qualified and inspired future NASA personnel to ensure the long-term sustainability of U.S. leadership in space exploration.
Testing is needed to address specifically the risks inherent with any new technology. The lack of testing in the current ETDP poses the threat that the technologies will not ultimately be available to be integrated into the Constellation Program, which increases the overall programmatic risk.