Research Area and Topic Current Status 2010-2020 2020 and Beyond Outcomes
In situ resource utilization: Fundamental studies of how to utilize in situ minerals and materials. (AP11) Although the need has been recognized, little research has been conducted in this area. Identify and produce a selected group of strategic elements (e.g., oxygen), materials, and components that enables space exploration and can be manufactured from extraterrestrial resources in both normal and reduced gravity. Produce elements, materials, and/or components on the Moon, Mars, and/or asteroids. Improved prospects for extended human exploration to extraterrestrial bodies.

aRecommendation identifiers are as listed with clarifying material in the main text of this chapter and also in Tables 13.1 and 13.2.

bNational Research Council, Microgravity Research in Support of Technologies for the Human Exploration and Development of Space and Planetary Bodies, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 2000.

cNational Research Council, Assessment of Directions in Microgravity and Physical Sciences Research at NASA, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2003.


NASA has long known (in some cases for many decades) about the need for research that enables the crewed exploration of space, but to date some needs have not been thoroughly addressed. As a consequence, for example, NASA and its contractors cannot reliably design and deploy large-scale multiphase systems and processes in space, fire safety research in reduced gravity is relatively immature, and spacecraft are designed using materials and design techniques that are generally available rather than tailored for a specific mission. To change this situation, NASA should alter the way that relevant applied research is solicited and funded. Moreover, the panel agrees with recent recommendations141 that a new long-term space technology research program with realistic objectives and stable funding is urgently needed.

It appears unlikely that individual principal-investigator-driven research programs will satisfy the mission-oriented research needs of NASA. For example, in many cases well-coordinated research teams are needed. In others the direction of the research that satisfies NASA’s needs may not be represented by the proposals received in response to a broad research announcement. The panel emphasizes the following pertinent observations made in a 2004 report prepared for NASA:142

Industry and other government research agencies, such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Office of Naval Research, regularly engage in programmatic research. … These agencies typically request or invite the formation of appropriate research teams and solicit research proposals from one or more of these teams, [or they request mission-related proposals from individual principal investigators]. Research is initiated based on a careful internal or external review and assessment of the team’s capabilities and responsiveness to the sponsor’s needs of the proposed research. [Subsequent to funding, the] … sponsor or its designee continuously evaluates the performance of the research team or teams through programmatic meetings and the peer-reviewed technical publications that result from the research being performed. The process is a dynamic one where research directions are changed as required to accomplish [emerging] mission goals. The researchers who are involved in such programs normally find this an exciting and rewarding way to do research because they are all on the critical path, and peer pressure among team members encourages superior performance. (p. 15)

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