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Suggested Citation:"4 Looking Ahead." National Research Council. 2011. An Interim Report on NASA's Draft Space Technology Roadmaps. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13228.

Looking Ahead

Technological breakthroughs have been the foundation of NASA’s past success. The Apollo landings on the Moon are now an icon for the successful application of technology to a task that was once regarded as a distant dream. Exploration of the solar system is not an everyday task: it is inherently high risk and requires new technologies, new ideas, and bold applications of technology, engineering, and science to create the vehicles, support systems, and an entire new infrastructure for space operations. NASA has led in the development and application of many critically important exploration technologies. In addition, technological advances have yielded benefits far beyond space exploration itself: advanced space technologies developed by and for NASA have yielded many unanticipated public benefits.

The technologies needed for the Apollo program were generally self-evident and driven by a clear and well-defined goal. In the modern era, in which the goals of space exploration have expanded beyond a single target, the necessary technological developments have become less clear, and more effort is required to evaluate the best path for a forward-looking technology development program. NASA has now entered a transitional stage, moving from the past era in which desirable technological goals were evident to all, to one in which careful choices among many conflicting alternatives must be made. The final report for this study, which will be issued early in 2012, will provide specific guidance on how the effectiveness of the technology development program managed by NASA’s Office of the Chief Technologist can be enhanced in the face of scarce resources by focusing on the highest-priority technologies.

Suggested Citation:"4 Looking Ahead." National Research Council. 2011. An Interim Report on NASA's Draft Space Technology Roadmaps. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13228.
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For the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to achieve many of its space science and exploration goals over the next several decades, dramatic advances in space technology will be necessary. NASA has developed a set of 14 draft roadmaps to guide the development of such technologies under the leadership of the NASA Office of the Chief Technologist (OCT). Each roadmap focuses on a particular technology area.

OCT requested that the National Research Council conduct a study to review the draft roadmaps, gather and assess relevant community input, and make recommendations and suggest priorities to inform NASA's decisions as it finalizes its roadmaps. The success of OCT's technology development program is essential, because technological breakthroughs have long been the foundation of NASA's successes, from its earliest days, to the Apollo program, to a vast array of space science missions and the International Space Station.

An Interim Report of NASA's Technology Roadmap identifies some gaps in the technologies included in the individual roadmaps. The report suggests that the effectiveness of the NASA space technology program can be enhanced by employing proven management practices and principles including increasing program stability, addressing facility issues, and supporting adequate flight tests of new technologies. This interim report provides several additional observations that will be expanded on in the final report to be released in 2012.

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