Finding: The present ETDP lacks an integrated, systematic test program. Of particular importance is that several ETDP projects, as currently formulated, do not include mission-critical tests—that is, system or subsystem model or prototype demonstrations in an operational environment—that are needed to advance the technology to TRL 6.

Recommendation: The Exploration Systems Mission Directorate should evaluate its test capabilities and develop a comprehensive overall integrated test and validation plan for all Exploration Technology Development Program (ETDP) projects. All ETDP projects should be reviewed for the absence of key tests (ground and/or flight), especially those that are required to advance key technologies to technology readiness level (TRL) 6. Where new facilities or flight tests are required, conceptual designs for the facilities or flight tests should be developed in order to establish plans and resource requirements needed to include the necessary testing in all ETDP projects.


At the conclusion of its study, the committee had developed an appreciation of the enormity of the task faced by the NASA workforce engaged in the ETDP, especially in light of the significant constraints under which the ETDP operates. These include the following:

  • The constraints imposed by a limited budget relative to the exploration goals,

  • The still-dynamic nature of the requirements handed over from the Constellation Program,

  • The timescale laid out to meet the requirements of the VSE, and

  • The desire within NASA 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 and with the dedication and enthusiasm that personnel showed for playing a part in contributing to the VSE. The committee was particularly impressed with the degree to which cooperation between NASA’s field centers has developed and the fact that all 10 NASA centers are engaged in the program.

The committee hopes that the observations, findings, and recommendations offered in this report will contribute to the ultimate success of the ETDP and to eventual success in a program to explore the solar system and beyond.

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