Technology Objective A: Extend and sustain human activities beyond low Earth orbit.

Supporting technologies would enable humans to survive long voyages throughout the solar system, get to their chosen destination, work effectively, and return safely.

This objective includes a major part of NASA’s mission to send humans beyond the protection of the Van Allen belts, mitigate the effects of space radiation and long exposure to the microgravity environment, enable the crew to accomplish the goals of the mission (contained in Technology Objective B), and then return to Earth safely. This objective includes using the International Space Station (ISS) for technology advancement to support future human space exploration, providing opportunities for commercial companies to offer services to low Earth orbit and beyond, and developing the launch capability required for safe access to locations beyond low Earth orbit.

Technology Objective B: Explore the evolution of the solar system and the potential for life elsewhere.

Supporting technologies would enable humans and robots to perform in situ measurements on Earth (astrobiology) and on other planetary bodies.

This objective is concerned with the in situ analysis of planetary bodies in the solar system. It includes the detailed analysis of the physical and chemical properties and processes that shape planetary environments and the study of the geologic and biological processes that explain how life evolved on Earth and whether it exists elsewhere. It involves development of instruments for in situ measurements and the associated data analysis. This objective includes all the in situ aspects of planetary science; measurement of interior properties, atmospheres, particles, and fields of planets, moons, and small bodies; and methods of planetary protection.

Technology Objective C: Expand our understanding of Earth and the universe in which we live.

Supporting technologies would enable remote measurements from platforms that orbit or fly by Earth and other planetary bodies, and from other in-space and ground-based observatories.

This objective includes astrophysics research; stellar, planetary, galactic, and extra-galactic astronomy; particle astrophysics and fundamental physics related to astronomical objects; solar and heliospheric physics; and magnetospheric physics and solar-planetary interactions. This objective also includes space-based observational Earth-system science and applications aimed at improving our understanding of Earth and its responses to natural and human-induced changes. This objective includes all space science activities that rely on measurements obtained remotely from various observational platforms.

These objectives are not independent and are often shared by a single mission (e.g., humans to explore planetary bodies or to service observatories, as was the case with the Hubble Space Telescope), and there are technologies that support more than one of these objectives (e.g., multifunctional structures, electric propulsion, GN&C). Yet this taxonomy is a useful way to categorize NASA’s responsibilities as described in its strategic plan and serves to prioritize the various technologies and technical challenges identified in this study.


One of the steering committee’s basic assumptions was that NASA would continue to pursue a balanced space program across its mission areas of human exploration, space science, space operations, space technology, and aeronautics. Indeed, this balance is emphasized in the 2011 NASA Strategic Plan (NASA, 2011) and addressed in the NRC report America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs (NRC, 2009), where breadth across NASA’s mission areas contributes to making the U.S. a leader in space. Therefore, since the technology program of the Office of the Chief Technologist (OCT) should broadly support the breadth of the agency’s missions and serve to open up options for future missions, the steering committee established priorities

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement