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Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research
The committee decided that the NASA TRL 1 through 3 (TRL 1-3) categories best matched the study requirement to “focus on an appraisal of equipment, facilities and support services used for fundamental science and engineering research” and directed NASA to limit presentations on facilities, equipment, support services, and science/engineer interviews to these categories.
STUDY PROCESS AND LIMITATIONS
The committee invited NASA Headquarters personnel and representatives of each NASA center that sponsored fundamental research to make a series of presentations at the first committee meeting held at the National Academy of Sciences building in Washington, D.C., on September 8 and 9, 2009. Before the meeting, the committee had requested that NASA Headquarters and each NASA center provide the following information at this first meeting and limit all presentations and material to activities encompassing TRLs 1-3:
Expenditures by year for new laboratory equipment over the past 5 years;
Expenditures for new facilities and major upgrades to existing facilities over the past 5 years;
Planned expenditures for laboratory equipment and facility improvements over the next 3 years;
The age distribution of existing laboratory equipment and the maintenance, repair, and upgrades of older equipment;
Facility maintenance budgets by year over the past 5 years; and
The uniqueness and importance of specific facilities to the NASA scientific and technology missions.
Also, before that first meeting, the committee decided that the expertise of its members matched the two main disciplines into which fundamental science and engineering research at NASA—namely, aeronautics research and space/Earth science research—were classified. Accordingly, two subcommittees were formed; their members are listed in Appendix C.
At the first meeting on September 8, 2009, the committee received presentations from NASA Headquarters representatives of the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD), the Science Mission Directorate (SMD), and the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD) an overview of how NASA assesses facility conditions and details of the NASA budgets over the past 5 years. Presentations from the Ames Research Center (ARC), Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), Glenn Research Center (GRC), and Johnson Space Center (JSC) were made on the second day of the meeting.
It is important to mention the limitations on this study that resulted from the narrowly focused statement of task (SOT), the constrained study and travel budgets, the limited time available to committee members, and the inability to command as much time as they would like from NASA center personnel. Another limitation was the reliance on NASA to let the committee know which NASA facilities are or were engaged in TRL 1-3 work. Not only was the committee unable to verify independently that the list of facilities presented by NASA was comprehensive, but it also became apparent to the committee during site visits that each center had defined the committee’s requests somewhat differently—that is, some centers only presented facilities that are currently engaged in low-TRL work, while others included facilities that have been or could have been so engaged.
The focus on fundamental science and engineering research eliminated several NASA centers that do not conduct a significant amount of, or any, TRL 1-3 research, such as JSC, the Stennis Space Center (SSC), and the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). JSC does conduct a small amount of TRL 1-3 research, but the committee decided, based on the material presented at the first meeting, that it did not warrant a visit.