NASA Tech Development Behind Schedule, Report Says

Future success of space missions depends on new technology that NASA should already be developing, says National Research Council report.
NASA's technology base is "largely depleted," leaving the agency without the advancements it needs to meet the future goals of its space program, according to a new report.

"Success in executing future NASA space missions will depend on advanced technology developments that should already be underway," according to an Interim Report on NASA's Draft Space Technology Roadmaps by the National Research Council. "However, it has been years since NASA has had a vigorous, broad-based program in advanced space technology."

With the space shuttle program over, NASA's space program is in a period of transition that's being hampered by budget cuts. Still, NASA has set its sights on ambitious goals for future space missions, such as sending people to the moon, Mars and other destinations beyond low Earth orbit.

The agency has 14 space technology roadmaps--which NASA commissioned the report to examine--that identify "a wide variety of opportunities to revitalize NASA's advanced space technology development program.

The report's findings suggest that the completion of these roadmaps could be in jeopardy. "Currently available technology is insufficient to accomplish many intended space missions," according to the report.

The report cites several examples where there are gaps. For instance, to send people to destinations beyond low earth orbit, the agency needs new technology to mitigate the effects of space radiation, from both the cosmic ray background and from solar flares. It also needs new, state-of the art environmental control and life support systems (ECLSSs) that are highly reliable and can be easily repaired.

The report makes suggestions for how NASA can better ensure the success of its space technology program, such as increasing program stability; pursuing evolutionary improvements and adopting intermediate goals; and maintaining a balance between the focus and flexibility of the roadmaps in establishing technical approaches.

In a statement, NASA Chief Technologist Bobby Braun said the agency largely agrees with the findings of the report. He added that NASA also is looking forward to the completion of the final report, which is due in January. It will be used as guidance for the agency's space-technology investment decisions in fiscal year 2012.

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