On the other hand, development of technologies for the space sciences should be driven by significant science objectives. For new technologies to have the desired effect on the space sciences, NASA must be sensitive to boundaries that cannot be crossed without exchanging valid science for mere technology demonstrations. The identification, development, and utilization of new technologies must be subject to the discipline of meeting high-priority science objectives. The criterion for judging new technologies should be their potential for enabling more high-quality science within the constraints of realistic budgets. This judgment should be made through reviews by scientists and engineers who represent the best scientists and technologists in NASA and other agencies, in industry, and in academia.

The Integration of Science and Technology

If “smaller, faster, cheaper” missions are to yield high-quality science, scientists and engineers must work more closely during design, development, integration, flight operations, and data archiving than has been the general practice with large missions. The synergism of talents that is possible in team environments has proven effective in industry and should prove equally effective with flight projects. The necessary compromises and the mutual learning among scientists and engineers can best be realized in these team settings where everyone understands the enabling value of new technologies and recognizes that science and technology are mutually supportive in ensuring the future vitality of the space sciences.

A key to the success of integrated projects is balance between immediate scientific results and the validation of technologies that not only enable these immediate results, but also improve scientific capability for future missions. While that balance might lie anywhere between the extremes of “science is supreme” to a “validation of technology,” a moderation should be sought. The former does not help achieve better or more affordable science later; the latter may ultimately prove of little or no value unless the technologies selected for flight validation are based on real space science needs.

The development of new technologies for the space sciences should be coupled to current science objectives. NASA will not have the resources to develop every technology in the anticipation that a few will prove of eventual value to science. Nor will it have the resources to develop a broad range of technologies in the belief that the process will significantly enhance the competitiveness of U.S. industry. While many new technologies will have some commercial value, it would be unwise to distort space science priorities in anticipation of large, but unspecified, benefits to industry or science.

Previous Studies

A wide-ranging study of the civil space program was delivered in December 1990 by the Advisory Committee on the Future of the U.S. Space Program2 (chaired by Norman Augustine). One recommendation of this report that is relevant to the current study was “that an agency-wide technology plan be developed [for NASA] with inputs from the Associate Administrators responsible for the major development programs, and that NASA utilize an expert, outside review process, managed from headquarters, to assist in the allocation of technology funds.” The study also recommended “a two- to three-fold enhancement of the current modest budget [for advanced technology development].”

NASA's Office of Aeronautics and Space Technology (OAST) responded to the call for a technology plan by developing the 1991 Integrated Technology Plan for the Civil Space Program (ITP)3 and by having its Space Systems and Technology Advisory Committee (SSTAC) review that ITP.4


Advisory Committee on the Future of the U.S. Space Program, Report of the Advisory Committee on the Future of the U.S. Space Program, December 1990.


NASA, Integrated Technology Plan for the Civil Space Program, 1991.


NASA, Advanced Technology for America's Future in Space, 1991.

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