6
General Findings and Recommendations

Finding. During the period of the committee's study, the NASA Advanced Human Support Technology Program has suffered from a lack of clear direction. This situation seems to come from two basic realities: (1) NASA has not directed R&D to address specific, long-term goals in human space exploration; and (2) NASA has not decided who will lead the programs. Therefore, NASA staff and others working on human support projects often do not have clear long-term objectives, or know to whom they are responsible. But even without a presidential mandate for major human exploration programs, NASA has a basic mission to advance technologies for space exploration and should be able to organize and prioritize a small fraction of its resources on R&D for the technologies necessary for the safe human exploration of space in the next century. The situation has become so strained that many members of NASA management seem reluctant to admit that they are contemplating human exploration missions—even missions that would be launched more than 20 years hence—apparently because there is no presidential or congressional directive for any human space exploration mission after the ISS. Responsibility for advanced EVA technology R&D projects has been delegated to JSC, but those working on the other three programs have spent over six months without knowing if they will continue to be managed from NASA headquarters or if they will be managed by a NASA center. It is also unclear what management by any group other than NASA headquarters will mean (e.g., one of the first acts of the JSC management of the EVA Project Office was to virtually eliminate EVA research at ARC).1

1  

 Since this study was completed, much of the program control has been transferred from NASA headquarters to NASA centers for the four human support programs.



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6 General Findings and Recommendations Finding. During the period of the committee's study, the NASA Advanced Human Support Technology Program has suffered from a lack of clear direction. This situation seems to come from two basic realities: (1) NASA has not directed R&D to address specific, long-term goals in human space exploration; and (2) NASA has not decided who will lead the programs. Therefore, NASA staff and others working on human support projects often do not have clear long-term objectives, or know to whom they are responsible. But even without a presidential mandate for major human exploration programs, NASA has a basic mission to advance technologies for space exploration and should be able to organize and prioritize a small fraction of its resources on R&D for the technologies necessary for the safe human exploration of space in the next century. The situation has become so strained that many members of NASA management seem reluctant to admit that they are contemplating human exploration missions—even missions that would be launched more than 20 years hence—apparently because there is no presidential or congressional directive for any human space exploration mission after the ISS. Responsibility for advanced EVA technology R&D projects has been delegated to JSC, but those working on the other three programs have spent over six months without knowing if they will continue to be managed from NASA headquarters or if they will be managed by a NASA center. It is also unclear what management by any group other than NASA headquarters will mean (e.g., one of the first acts of the JSC management of the EVA Project Office was to virtually eliminate EVA research at ARC).1 1    Since this study was completed, much of the program control has been transferred from NASA headquarters to NASA centers for the four human support programs.

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Recommendation 6-1. NASA should establish a well defined management structure for the human support programs and forthrightly inform NASA personnel. OLMSA should then proceed with these programs to meet the unique needs for human support technologies for future crewed missions beyond low Earth orbit. Finding. Requirements for technology development should be predicated on carefully developed reference missions and systems analysis to determine functional requirements. There are many good existing design reference mission studies that could be adapted and used by all programs. Recommendation 6-2. OLMSA should not expend significant resources to develop new reference missions but should increase the use of systems analysis and modeling tools. Finding. Current funding levels (less than $20 million annually for all four OLMSA programs) are clearly not high enough to support R&D on all of the technologies for human space exploration. As long as funding remains at or near current levels, the committee believes that little progress will be made unless programs are narrowly focused and prioritized to meet the key technology needs in each area. Recommendation 6-3. The roles and tasks of all groups (NASA and non-NASA) involved in human support research and development sponsored by NASA should be clearly defined and prioritized. Program resources should only be allocated to those projects that address the highest priority technology needs for future missions. NASA should direct its limited resources for research in areas where advances are unlikely to be made by others. Recommendation 6-4. Systems analysis approaches should be included in ongoing and future processes to determine the highest priority technologies for human support in space. Recommendation 6-5. Periodic NASA Research Announcements calling for proposals from prospective researchers in topics related to human support in space should clearly identify the high priority areas in each program. The selection process should give added weight to proposals that are most relevant to the high priority areas defined in the announcements. Recommendation 6-6. Spin-off technologies should be transferred outside of OLMSA as appropriate, but only as dividends from a project aimed at furthering NASA objectives. Technology transfer should not become a major emphasis of these small technology development programs.

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Recommendation 6-7. The International Space Station should be used as a site for research relevant to human support in space and for tests and demonstrations of new human support technologies. Finding. NASA has unique technology needs, but there is too much technical insularity in the NASA human support programs. Recommendation 6-8. NASA should put more emphasis on finding technologies and knowledge relevant to human support outside of the NASA centers and other locations where technology has been developed in the past. The Human Support Program should strive to include universities and industry in its projects and should make special efforts to take advantage of the willingness of industry to spend private funds on research and development projects relevant to NASA's long-term goals. Recommendation 6-9. Technical communication—inter-, intra-, and extra-NASA—including publication, should be expanded and actively supported.