Peer review of research may not be appropriate in all situations; for instance, conferences and workshops may be better suited for presentation of some types of research. However, peer review does represent an effective method of conveying scientifically tested and accepted results, underlying intricacies, and other key pieces of information to the community at large.
Finding: NASA’s MMOD researchers do not consistently communicate the results of their work to the scientific community, with the result that users of NASA’s codes and models have less understanding regarding the underlying assumptions and intricacies in each code and model.
Recommendation: NASA should encourage its MMOD researchers to more fully communicate the results of their work and their development activities, such as in appropriate peer-reviewed publications when possible, so that users of NASA’s codes and models gain a greater appreciation for and more clearly understand the underlying assumptions and intricacies in each code and model.
Because of the steadily increasing number of ventures in space, the expertise of NASA’s MMOD programs is increasingly sought after by a wide variety of space exploration parties. As pointed out in Chapter 1, “Introduction and Historical Background,” the resources provided to NASA’s programs (funding, personnel, research support, and so on) have not, however, been increased to meet these growing demands. In fact, many of the operations within NASA that are related to orbital debris are “one civil servant deep” and include a support staff of mostly on- and off-site contractors. As such, there is no redundancy within NASA in case of retirements or resignations. This shallowness of personnel coverage could seriously jeopardize a number of ongoing life- and mission-critical operations should a program or activity lead retire, resign, or be re-assigned.
Finding: Nearly all of NASA’s MMOD programs are only one person deep in staffing. This shortage of staffing makes the programs highly vulnerable to budget reductions or changes in personnel. Further reductions in real budgetary support over the coming years could threaten the viability and scope of ongoing MMOD programs.
In December 1981, NASA formulated a draft 10-Year Space Debris Assessment Plan that outlined MMOD goals and planned program developments for 1981 through 1991. This was a valuable document that identified MMOD goals and proposed program developments. The committee has been unable to find, however, any formal MMOD strategic plan covering the period since 1991 to guide MMOD research priorities, budget allocations, and program developments. The committee did examine a 1995 PowerPoint presentation in which one slide stated five general program goals, but no supporting plan was provided. NASA appears to lack a strategic plan for MMOD-related activities, including research, model development, operations, and management, but such a strategic plan is usually a centerpiece of major governmental and corporate programs. MMOD program managers informed the committee that many of the pieces and insights needed for such a plan exist but simply have not been brought together. The lack of such a formal plan, however, encourages making key budget decisions and research priorities in an uncoordinated way, rather than through a coherent, well-thought-out strategy. If such a plan were in place, then, whether funding increased or decreased over time, the plan would provide guidance as to how efforts would be structured and resources allocated.
In the committee’s view, a useful strategic plan would address four major questions:
1. Where are we? This first step is extremely important because it has to reflect the proper taxonomy of the missions of the organization so that the ensuing efforts are most useful. Overarching Figure 1.1 in Chapter 1 portrays several functions (testing and measurements; model development and use; and services to NASA program