the 5.2-second zero gravity facility, which is a national landmark. Another building housed the 2.2-second drop tower, which appeared to be mostly dormant at present.
Another group of facilities contains some ESMD and reimbursable work in tribology, dusts, and ISRU research: the tribology and space mechanisms facilities, space environment simulation, lunar dust simulation, particulate characterization/separation laboratories, and ISRU O2 extraction reactor studies. Another area of research at GRC supports microgravity research and research on the ISS. The committee reviewed the fluids and combustion facility, which is a mockup of an identical facility on the ISS, as well as the telescience support center, which is set up to support research payloads on the ISS. The last facility that the group visited was the space communication laboratory, which houses a number of separate rooms for testing different aspects of antennas, including near field, far field, metrology, compact ranges, and miniaturization. This allows fundamental research testing in one central location.
GRC is unable at present to provide adequate and stable funding for the equipment, facilities, and support services required for fundamental science and engineering research. Internal funding and NASA Headquarters funding for research have dropped to low levels, and scientists and engineers are spending inordinate amounts of time seeking funding to maintain basic laboratory capabilities. No dollars are allocated from the GRC budget for IRAD. Strategic equipment purchases are difficult because funding must often be pieced together from multiple sources or even over multiple funding years. Many programs have short-term, project-oriented objectives rather than the long-term strategic objectives that should be required from a fundamental research program.
The committee members concluded that many of the laboratories at GRC are not keeping up with state-of-the-art equipment now offered by industry and university laboratories. In many cases it is maintaining existing research facilities but not significantly improving them and not advancing the state-of-the-art in research facilities in its disciplines. In other cases, the difficulty in funding licenses, upgrades, computers, maintenance, and the like is causing equipment and capabilities to deteriorate rapidly. Some equipment is so obsolete that it is not now maintainable (or soon will not be); this ranges from large pieces of equipment to programmable controllers. One laboratory was shut down for a year because there was no money for a computer. It was stated by some GRC staff that they go to neighboring universities to use the equipment. This has both negative and positive aspects: sharing equipment with other researchers who have first claim on its use, but also interacting with peers within a research setting.
A few facilities that support ETDP work have been funded at minimal levels to maintain capabilities for specifically identified activities. These facilities have generally conducted lower-TRL work in the past and are capable of supporting that work. However, the facilities are currently underutilized and support only a small amount of funded higher-TRL work.
The GRC staff noted numerous impediments that had made it more difficult than in the past to support such research and more difficult to acquire and maintain the equipment, facilities, and support services: in some cases, technicians have been moved out of laboratories, and scientists cannot obtain timely technical support even if funded; electric power is limited in some areas because infrastructure has not been fully improved; administrative systems and paperwork are more time-consuming; office supplies have been rationed; and so on.
GRC is not keeping up with the state of the art enjoyed by comparable laboratories.