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Assessment of Technology Development in NASA's Office of Space Science 1 Introduction Development and utilization of new technologies have always been pivotal elements of the space program. Advances in spaceflight and space science and the beneficial applications of new knowledge from space research over the past 40 years have been driven, or constrained, by the pace of growth in technological capabilities and their innovative exploitation to open new fields and pursue new scientific questions. Space research today is striving to tackle increasingly complex scientific problems and to do so by accomplishing more with less, in terms of both constrained budgets and an emphasis on smaller but more frequent spaceflight missions. These factors make the effective development, adaptation, and adoption of new technologies every bit as important as in the past, and probably more so. The issue of technology development in NASA in recent years has been addressed by the National Research Council in several reports—e.g., Improving NASA's Technology for Space Science (1993), Managing the Space Sciences (1995a), The Role of Small Missions in Planetary and Lunar Exploration (1995b), Assessment of Recent Changes in the Explorer Program (1996), Lessons Learned from the Clementine Mission (1997a), Reducing the Cost of Space Science Research Missions (1997b), Scientific Assessment of NASA's SMEX-MIDEX Space Physics Mission Selections (1997c), Report of the Workshop on Biology-based Technology to Enhance Human Well-being in Extended Space Exploration (1998a), and Space Technology for the New Century (1998b). Notable among these is the 1995 report Managing the Space Sciences, which devoted a major section to technology planning and implementation. The report made nine recommendations pertaining to technology planning (pp. 65-69; see Box 1.1); the relative roles and relationships of NASA headquarters, the NASA field Centers, industry, and academia; technology utilization; and budgets. Box 1.1 Technology Recommendations from Managing the Space Sciences Recommendation 6-1: NASA should establish an agency-wide process for identifying, developing, and using technologies for the benefit of the space sciences. The aspects of the plan relevant to space science should be reviewed annually by a committee chaired by the NASA Chief Scientist and made up of the NASA Science Council plus recognized scientists and engineers from inside NASA, from industry, and from academia. Recommendation 6-2: The space science offices should have primary responsibility for identifying and reviewing near-term technologies. This arrangement gives the science offices the greatest control of the technologies that most immediately affect the success of their programs. Each science office should allocate a significant fraction of its resources to ATD activities and should be willing to pool resources to achieve shared objectives. Most importantly, the implementation of all categories of technology development should be undertaken by the best-qualified individuals or teams within NASA, industry, or academia, as determined by peer review. The overall processes for near-term development would be coordinated by the Chief Scientist (or a designated representative of the Chief Scientist) through the NASA Science Council. Recommendation 6-3: Promising far-term technologies should be identified, funded, and managed by the Office of Space Access and Technology (OSAT). Projects should be reviewed jointly by the science offices and OSAT. These far-term projects should be carried out by the best-qualified individuals or teams within NASA, industry, or
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Assessment of Technology Development in NASA's Office of Space Science academia as determined by peer review. Tight budgets make it more important than ever that a regular and rigorous review process be put in place to identify those projects that ought to be terminated. Recommendation 6-4: NASA-wide oversight of technology for the space sciences belongs at Headquarters. While field centers might be asked to manage the day-to-day affairs of programs, it should be Headquarters' role to maintain a comprehensive, formal technology plan and to manage announcement, selection, and review of technology grants and contracts. 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. Since the NRC's release of Managing the Space Sciences, NASA has made several significant internal changes. The Office of Space Access and Technology has been disbanded, responsibilities and budgets for technologies with mission-specific applications have been transferred to the appropriate NASA offices, and the responsibilities and budgets for cross-
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Assessment of Technology Development in NASA's Office of Space Science cutting technologies have been transferred to the Office of Space Science (OSS). The position of Chief Technologist has been established and filled in the Office of the Administrator. However, the position of NASA Chief Scientist, which was expected to be a key link in implementing several of the recommendations in the 1995 report, has been vacant for 2 years. During the fiscal year 1998 appropriations process, Congress expressed concerns about one aspect of NASA's technology development process that had also been addressed in Managing the Space Sciences, namely the extent to which opportunities to receive support for technology research and development are made available through open competition, and NASA was given specific guidance. For example, the report of the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations stated: The Committee is concerned about the absence of competition in the selection of funding recipients for the new millennium, advanced space technology, and portions of the supporting research and technology program elements. The Committee believes that these funds, whether awarded intramurally or extramurally, must be fully competed through broad announcements of opportunity with selection by external peer review panels, rather than at the discretion of agency managers. (See Appendix A for the complete congressional text.) The subsequent report from the House-Senate Conference Committee went on to direct NASA to “consolidate all space science ATD [advanced technology development] activities into an easily accessible consolidated budget line item and award not less than 75 percent of these funds through broadly distributed announcements of opportunity that solicit proposals from all categories of organizations . . . and that allow partnerships among any combination of these entities, with evaluation, prioritization, and recommendations made by external peer review panels, consistent with the recommendations contained in the 1995 National Academy of Sciences report on managing the space sciences. ” On March 24, 1998, OSS Associate Administrator Wesley Huntress requested that the NRC conduct an updated assessment of OSS technology development processes in the context of the recommendations in the 1995 Managing the Space Sciences report and the recent organizational changes at NASA. (A copy of the Huntress letter appears in Appendix B.) The Task Group on Technology Development in NASA's Office of Space Science was established by the NRC in May 1998, and this report presents its conclusions and recommendations. The statement of task for the study is presented in Appendix C. The task group held meetings on June 29-July 1, 1998, and July 13-14, 1998. The task group had discussions with personnel from the Office of Management and Budget, NASA headquarters, NASA field Centers, industry, and academia to understand the perspectives of policy makers, users, and providers of advanced technologies developed for NASA. Agendas for both meetings are presented in Appendix D. The remainder of this report presents the results of the work of the task group. Chapter 2 divides ATD into four areas—planning, implementation, infrastructure, and measurement and follow-up —and describes the study's findings and recommendations that are relevant to each area. Chapter 3 summarizes the task group's conclusions and recommendations, especially as they pertain to the recommendations of Managing the Space Sciences.
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Assessment of Technology Development in NASA's Office of Space Science REFERENCES National Research Council (NRC). 1993. Improving NASA's Technology for Space Science. Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board and Space Studies Board. Committee on Space Science Technology Planning.National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. NRC. 1995a. Managing the Space Sciences. Space Studies Board and Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board. Committee on the Future of Space Science. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. NRC. 1995b. The Role of Small Missions in Planetary and Lunar Exploration. Space Studies Board. Committee on Planetary and Lunar Exploraion. National Academy Press, Washington. D.C. NRC. 1996. Assessment of Recent Changes in the Explorer Program. Space Studies Board. Panel to Review the Explorer Program.National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. NRC. 1997a. Lessons Learned from the Clementine Mission. Space Studies Board. Committee on Planetary and Lunar Exploration .National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. NRC. 1997b. Reducing the Cost of Space Science Research Missions. Space Studies Board and Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board. Joint Committee on Technology for Space Science and Applications .National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. NRC. 1997c. Scientific Assessment of NASA's SMEX-MIDEX Space Physics Mission Selections. Space Studies Board and Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate. Committee on Solar and Space Physics and Committee on Solar-Terrestrial Research . National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. NRC. 1998a. Report of the Workshop on Biology-based Technology to Enhance Human Well-being in Extended Space Exploration . Studies Board. Steering Group for the Workshop on Biology-based Technology for Enhanced Space Exploration. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. NRC. 1998b. Space Technology for the New Century. Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board. Committee on Advanced Space Technology.National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.
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