to Mars. While this mission beneficially stresses and challenges the technology envelope in entry, descent, and landing (EDL), it would be prudent to ensure that the EDL technology under development is not tied too closely to a specific mission or destination. Technologies that enable a broad spectrum of future missions by accommodating a wide range of destination and schedule options were more highly valued in the roadmap evaluation.
Some technologies in different roadmaps have connections that are not delineated in the draft roadmaps. For example, both a better understanding of the effects of space radiation on humans and development of technologies to mitigate those effects more effectively are a high priority for future human deep-space missions. The risk posed by space radiation is closely linked to mission duration and thus to advances in in-space propulsion that could shorten the duration of long missions, such as a human mission to Mars. Systems analysis could help address the multifaceted challenge of reducing the health risk posed by space radiation. More generally, systems analysis could be used throughout the technology development process to guide technology selection, refinement, redirection, and down-selection in the dynamic environment that shapes NASA’s current and future research and mission priorities.
Recommendation. Systems Analysis. NASA’s Office of the Chief Technologist (OCT) should use disciplined systems analysis for the ongoing management and decision support of the space technology portfolio, particularly with regard to understanding technology alternatives, relationships, priorities, timing, availability, down-selection, maturation, investment needs, system engineering considerations, and cost-to-benefit ratios; to examine “what-if” scenarios; and to facilitate multidisciplinary assessment, coordination, and integration of the roadmaps as a whole. OCT should give early attention to improving systems analysis and modeling tools, if necessary to accomplish this recommendation.
Recommendation. Managing the Progression of Technologies to Higher Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs). OCT should establish a rigorous process to down-select among competing technologies at appropriate milestones and TRLs to ensure that only the most promising technologies proceed to the next TRL.
The successful development of game-changing technologies that lead to revolutionary capabilities applicable to a wide range of potential missions is a priority for NASA’s space technology program and was treated as such in the roadmap evaluation process. Not to be overlooked, however, is the fact that many of the game-changing breakthroughs emerge only from a sustained level of disciplinary research and its contribution to a foundational technology base. As such, maintaining (or reestablishing) a technology base that produces a pipeline of evolutionary improvements over time is an important element of the OCT program. There are many areas where continuity of effort is all-important, such as research on aerothermodynamics and hypersonic flow, advanced lightweight materials, fault-tolerant guidance and control, and human factors, to name just a few. These are areas that address problems that will never be completely solved, yet advancing the level of understanding in these disciplines is critical for many of NASA’s missions. Also, in executing challenging missions, it is often necessary to have access to individuals with in-depth competence who reside in the government, at an academic institution, or perhaps in industry, and who are experts in a given subject. These experts are invaluable in providing advice to help solve problems of a critical nature as they arise during a program. Furthermore, hiring the very brightest people as they graduate from universities will help NASA maintain and improve its workforce over the long term. These individuals are usually best placed initially in a disciplinary research organization where they can continue to grow their expertise in their fields. They can later transition to other parts of the organization as they progress in their chosen careers. The steering committee recognizes that many of these core-competency and workforce issues do not rest principally with OCT, but they are mentioned here because the technology development program can influence how NASA addresses these issues.
In 2011, NASA OCT reestablished the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program to fund visionary technologies at TRLs 1 to 3. The NIAC program, which will investigate individual technology concepts at a relatively low level of effort, should not be limited to those technologies identified as high priority by the steering