3

Alternative Models

The task group considered a number of models. These ranged from suggesting minimal organizational changes to the present NASA structure and focusing instead on internal process improvements (the minimal change model) to establishing an independently chartered nongovernment entity that would be responsible for all aspects of ISS operation and utilization (an independently chartered corporation model). These two models bracket the spectrum of changes and responsibilities to be considered and provide a starting point for analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of alternative approaches. The task group was aware of the fact that other federal agencies also have dealt with the issue of acquiring support for R&D activities through a variety of approaches. These have ranged from the use of in-house federal laboratories (e.g. National Institute of Standards and Technology), to government-owned, contractor-operated facilities (e.g. at the Department of Energy and the National Sciences Foundation), to the use of captive contractors (e.g. at the Department of Defense). Cognizance of those approaches also helped inform the deliberations.

The principal features of the two extreme cases are outlined below.

MINIMAL CHANGE MODEL

Under this approach, the NASA organization already in place for planning ISS utilization and implementing a research program during ISS assembly would be largely unchanged, and each element of the organization would continue to pursue responsibilities more or less as they are now assigned. (It is actually a network of organizations spanning a number of NASA installations and contractor sites.) The responsibilities of the current organization are identified in Figure 1.1 in Chapter 1.



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INSTITUTIONAL ARRANGEMENTS FOR SPACE STATION RESEARCH 3 Alternative Models The task group considered a number of models. These ranged from suggesting minimal organizational changes to the present NASA structure and focusing instead on internal process improvements (the minimal change model) to establishing an independently chartered nongovernment entity that would be responsible for all aspects of ISS operation and utilization (an independently chartered corporation model). These two models bracket the spectrum of changes and responsibilities to be considered and provide a starting point for analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of alternative approaches. The task group was aware of the fact that other federal agencies also have dealt with the issue of acquiring support for R&D activities through a variety of approaches. These have ranged from the use of in-house federal laboratories (e.g. National Institute of Standards and Technology), to government-owned, contractor-operated facilities (e.g. at the Department of Energy and the National Sciences Foundation), to the use of captive contractors (e.g. at the Department of Defense). Cognizance of those approaches also helped inform the deliberations. The principal features of the two extreme cases are outlined below. MINIMAL CHANGE MODEL Under this approach, the NASA organization already in place for planning ISS utilization and implementing a research program during ISS assembly would be largely unchanged, and each element of the organization would continue to pursue responsibilities more or less as they are now assigned. (It is actually a network of organizations spanning a number of NASA installations and contractor sites.) The responsibilities of the current organization are identified in Figure 1.1 in Chapter 1.

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INSTITUTIONAL ARRANGEMENTS FOR SPACE STATION RESEARCH In the minimal change model, the emphasis would be on enhanced attention to process improvements. Such efforts would be aimed at changes within the existing structure to streamline the handling of ISS research investigations by identifying the following: Documentation requirements that could be simplified; Activities that could be eliminated or combined; Activities that could be accelerated or conducted in parallel; and Staffing actions that could enhance the support of and responsiveness to investigators during the end-to-end flow of research investigations. One of the advantages of this model is that it would probably be the least disruptive approach, because it builds on the current assignments and plans already in place inside NASA. There would be few requirements to hand over responsibilities between major organizational units, and there would be no need for a major procurement activity to select an outside replacement organization. There are, however, at least three considerations that weigh against pursuit of the minimal change model. The first relates to the distinction between NASA's traditional high-technology R&D role and the much different challenge of handling long-term facility operations. Ever since its inception, NASA has distinguished itself by undertaking and successfully achieving large, complex engineering challenges. NASA has led the world in developing and applying engineering and project management disciplines for such endeavors. At the same time, it has sought to hand off the operational management of established, long-term undertakings, viewing itself primarily as an R&D organization. Examples include the transitioning to NOAA of weather satellites, to COMSAT of communications satellites, and more recently to the United Space Alliance for space shuttle launch processing. The assignment of scientific operation of some long-term research facilities—high-altitude balloons; the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory; and the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy aircraft—is another example of the hand-off to outside operators. This practice of transferring work from NASA to the private sector has made it possible for NASA to keep its attention focused on cutting-edge R&D. The practice has enabled the development of advanced technology for the next generation of space systems and has freed the agency from responsibility for operating current systems. Handing off the research utilization of the ISS to an outside organization has become even more important in the current environment of constrained size of government operations. Over the past several years, the size of the NASA workforce, like that of many federal agencies, has shrunk considerably. Given the likelihood that this trend will not be reversed in the foreseeable future, NASA will not have the staff resources and technical skills to sustain both a major R&D role and an operational role. A second consideration that is pertinent to transferring research use of the ISS relates to the need to bring the research community close to the operation and to make it an integral part of the process. In NASA's most important scientific missions, one success factor has been a close working relationship between the engineering communities and the research user communities. 1 1   See, for example, NRC, 1995; NRC, 1997; NRC, 1998a; and NRC, 1998b.

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INSTITUTIONAL ARRANGEMENTS FOR SPACE STATION RESEARCH Examples include the Skylab/Apollo Telescope Mount, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Voyager missions to the outer planets, and the Cosmic Background Explorer, to name just a few. Time and again, missions in which the scientific community has been integrally involved in early definition and planning and in which the selected science team has remained involved throughout the detailed planning and operational phases have proven to be highly productive. Design trade-offs and solutions to unexpected problems have been resolved in ways that have preserved maximum scientific value in the face of technical and resource constraints. The experience with notably successful science missions is relevant to deciding how to implement the guiding principles for ISS research utilization. A third, equally important consideration relates to the scope and character of ISS operations. The ISS is arguably one of the largest and most complex space engineering efforts ever undertaken. It will rely upon and utilize the hands-on involvement of up to seven full-time crew members, who will be expected to function in the unique environment of space. The identified research community is especially heterogeneous because of the mix of disciplines, basic and applied research objectives, and funding institutions. This diversity demands that a single entity be specifically empowered to integrate the needs and interests of research users and to facilitate access to research resources. After having considered all three arguments—namely, the conflict between responsibility for advanced R&D and responsibility for long-term operations; the need for an organization run by and for researchers; and the need to integrate the diverse set of research communities and requirements in a single organization —the task group concluded that the minimal change approach is not a suitable option. INDEPENDENTLY CHARTERED AGENCY OR CORPORATION At the other extreme of the range of potential organizational approaches is a model in which a nongovernment organization (NGO) becomes a full and independent public agency or corporation, chartered and authorized to receive and expend direct congressional appropriations and commercial funding. Such an organization would become the U.S. entity for managing the entire ISS program, including research supported by both public and private funds, and would be a coordinating mechanism for the research supported by the international partners. In this model, NASA essentially would hand over to the NGO all major responsibilities for the long-term management of the ISS. Technical matters relating to the operation and maintenance of the ISS itself, including launch services, would be contracted by the NGO to a commercial subsidiary, subject to continuing insight by NASA. The corporate-style NGO would solicit, select, and fund research from the academic, technical, and commercial sectors (although commercial proprietary research would be supported by the commercial sponsors). The corporate NGO would be governed by a board of directors nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate and composed of representatives of academia and the public and private sectors. The NGO would strive over the long term to become a profitable, self-supporting entity with respect to commercial research conducted aboard the ISS, but academic research would continue to be largely supported through appropriations. This approach might be viewed as advantageous because it would involve the complete privatization of the ISS program and would substantially reduce the number of interfaces between NASA and outside organizations. Further,

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INSTITUTIONAL ARRANGEMENTS FOR SPACE STATION RESEARCH the process for funding the operation and use of the ISS would become independent of NASA's budget process. The task group concluded that an NGO need not be expected to manage all the operations of the ISS and that an all-encompassing organization would unnecessarily disrupt parts of NASA that are functioning effectively now with the broad support of the external user community. Furthermore, some activities are best carried out by the highly experienced aerospace entities that have been deeply involved in the design and construction of the ISS. These organizations can call upon substantial technical knowledge and experience, engineering resources, and infrastructure that cannot or need not be replicated within a new NGO. Examples include compliance with safety procedures and safeguards, launch services, ISS operations, systems engineering and maintenance, some supporting ground-based research and validation, and some research hardware design, development, and validation. Finally, some aspects of the overall process are being handled well now and can be left in NASA, at least for the short term, including NASA headquarters' solicitation, peer review, and selection of proposals for investigation. Abruptly transferring responsibility for activities that are running effectively would be unnecessarily disruptive and counterproductive. Furthermore, as noted earlier, most program offices support ground-based programs and use other platforms in addition to the ISS. The independently chartered option would mean dividing responsibility for these programs between NASA and the NGO. There are still other activities for which responsibility must always remain at the policy-making level of government, for example, the negotiation of government-to-government or agency-to-agency international agreements, strategic decision-making, and budget advocacy (within the executive branch). In addition to these considerations, NASA probably does not have the authority to establish an entity with a scope of responsibilities as broad as an independently chartered corporation model would be expected to have. The task group therefore concluded that this end of the spectrum of options is also not suitable. NASA REFERENCE MODEL The task group also examined the NASA reference model (see Appendix E). This model for an NGO for space station utilization management describes a very broad scope of activities that could be all-inclusive. It would deal with all classes of users—science, engineering, and commercial—and would serve as the management interface, or “transaction node,” between the principal investigator (PI) community, the ISS program office, NASA headquarters, facility-class hardware developers, and the ISS operator. Its roles could include proposal solicitation, review, and selection; disbursement of funding to some (or all) PIs; strategic and shorter-term utilization planning; coordination with international partners; management of experiment design, development, testing, and integration; and data processing and archiving. The reference model allows for a resident staff housed at a dedicated site that could include the capacity for operation of ground-based facilities and construction of flight hardware. The anticipated entity could be either a nonprofit organization (e.g. a university or consortium of universities), a for-profit concern (e.g. an aerospace firm), or some hybrid combination of nonprofit and for-profit organizations. The mechanism for establishing the NGO is left open but could be a contract, a cooperative agreement, or some other mechanism.

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INSTITUTIONAL ARRANGEMENTS FOR SPACE STATION RESEARCH The task group felt some aspects of the NASA model were more comprehensive than they needed to be. For example, the model would move the science program management functions (research proposal solicitation, evaluation, and selection), which are viewed as being effectively conducted by NASA headquarters, to the NGO. In all of NASA's science programs the ISS is expected to be just one element in an ensemble of platforms or settings that together constitute a research program. Other elements would include a range of complementary ground-based and suborbital research activities, theoretical and modeling studies, and research using robotic satellites or space probes, especially in the Earth and space sciences. The task group felt that such a broad range of activities should not be conducted under the auspices of an organization charged to facilitate research use of the ISS. After consideration of these models, the task group concluded that the objectives and guiding principles described in Chapter 2 could best be achieved by establishing an NGO under the direction of institutions capable of representing the research community as a whole. Many of the elements in the NASA reference model would be appropriate for the NGO envisioned by the task group and were incorporated into the model the task group recommended, which is described in Chapter 4 along with the attributes and functions of the NGO. Also discussed there is the concept of an NGO whose role is rather narrowly focused in the near term but could expand in the long term. REFERENCES National Research Council (NRC). 1995. Managing the Space Sciences. Washington, D.C. : National Academy Press , pp. 46 and 63 . National Research Council (NRC). 1997. Science Management in the Human Exploration of Space. Washington, D.C. : National Academy Press , pp. 15 , 20 , and 32 . National Research Council (NRC). 1998a. U.S.-European Collaboration in Space Science. Washington, D.C. : National Academy Press , pp. 98 , 104 , and 107 . National Research Council (NRC). 1998b. A Strategy for Space Biology and Medicine in the New Century. Washington, D.C. : National Academy Press , p. 242