NASA Aims For Tech Research Leadership Role

Chief technologist Bobby Braun claims the agency's recently launched Space Technology Program will help boost innovation and U.S. economic competitiveness.

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NASA's new Space Technology Program fills a void at the agency that will help it provide unprecedented technology leadership for the foreseeable future, the agency's chief of technology said this week.

Speaking in a press conference Tuesday, NASA Chief Technologist Bobby Braun said that the recently launched Space Technology Program -- which in fact is a set of 10 programs aimed at innovative technology research and development -- is the way forward for an agency that is in transition.

"I can't imagine or remember when NASA had a continuous set of technology development programs that allowed us to take an idea from concept to flight," Braun said. "It's very important for our future mission, economic competitiveness and technology leadership for this nation."

With the end of the Space Shuttle program drawing near, the Obama administration's future plan for NASA is a shift in focus away from pure space exploration and more toward using space technology to focus on environmental, geological, climate and other issues on Earth.

Braun said this provides the agency with an opportunity to become "a foundational research and technology program that is beyond requirements -- beyond the next mission -- and is more strategic in its approach."

He outlined some of the areas NASA's Space Technology Program will focus on, with satellite technology -- particularly small satellites that can be launched quickly into orbit -- being a key one.

NASA's Ames Research Center in California will be the linchpin for much of the so-called "small sat" research and development, Braun said.

"Frankly they have been doing a lot of small satellite work," he said, adding that the research and engineering staff at Ames have focused on this area for "a number of years."

Other key technology priorities for NASA are to find a way to store and transfer propellants in space to pave the way for scenarios such as human space travel to Mars, he said.

The advent of the Space Technology Program also brings with it a new way of doing technology project management, Braun said.

NASA plans to put definite goals and time frames on projects rather than letting them carry on indefinitely, as they have in the past.

"We're taking a program approach where project managers are selected on their technical rigor, passion and commitment, and they are given the authority responsibility to succeed or fail and are held accountable for their projects," Braun said.

The agency also plans to take calculated risks for the sake of innovation and future investment, even if they don't always pan out.

"This is not an incremental technology development program -- this is a far-reaching technology program," he said. "We're making a portfolio of investments so that our future missions will have technological solutions that we need."

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