Recommendation 6-5: NASA field centers should explicitly define those technological subdisciplines that require in-house research and development, for example, those associated with mission development, integration, testing, and operations; with a unique, national facility; or with “smart buying” of external technologies. Field centers must rely on the research and development capabilities of other NASA field centers and of laboratories of the Departments of Energy and Defense, industry, and academia wherever it is reasonable to do so. The essential, in-house capabilities should be sufficiently supported to ensure their quality as a national resource. Their effectiveness should be reviewed periodically by experts from other NASA field centers, industry, and academia. Evidence of continued excellence might include significant contributions to NASA technology development initiatives, key contributions to the technological advancement of their subdiscipline, journal publications, presentations at technical conferences, and patents.
Recommendation 6-6: NASA should develop aggressive programs for changing the insular culture of the field centers. Among these should be programs for personnel exchanges among the centers, industry, and academia. A fraction of the engineering/technology workforce should be viewed as transient.
Recommendation 6-7: NASA should use the nation's best talent to develop both near-term and far-term space science technologies. Grants or contracts for space science technology development should be awarded on the basis of peer-reviewed proposals, and progress should be critically reviewed annually. Other funding from the agency should be provided on the basis of informed and conscious decisions by NASA upper management (at Headquarters or a center) and not as an automatic allocation to support the indefinite perpetuation of a laboratory or facility. Where NASA in-house capability is unable to compete on the basis of quality, NASA should decide whether to abandon the activity or to improve its quality so that it can compete.
Recommendation 6-8: NASA should make special efforts to ensure that the emphasis it has newly placed on the incorporation of new technology in missions truly carries over to the processes for evaluation and selection of proposals. If increased use of new technology on NASA missions is valued by the agency, it should ensure that this value is explicit in the selection criteria for new projects. Furthermore, there should be stronger incentives for project managers to incorporate new technologies.
Recommendation 6-9: While the committee endorses NASA's creation of programs like New Millennium, such programs should be coordinated across the agency to ensure that their appetite for technology is balanced by appropriate technology development budgets, that the new technologies truly serve the space sciences, that validation flights test technologies through the incorporation of real science objectives, and that there is an appropriate balance in the spectrum between flights that are dominated by the immediate needs of science and flights that devote significant resources to the incorporation of technologies that enable better or lower-cost science in the future.