NRC: NASA Should Beef up Tech Development for Lunar, Mars Missions

NASA needs to make a number of crucial improvements in its Exploration Technology Development Program (ETDP) if it wants to land humans on the moon and Mars, according to a new National Research Council report.

In an interim report released on Friday, a NRC review committee said that NASA is underfunding research in key areas and has left “mission critical tests” out of its schedule due to budgetary and time constraints.

“Although near term budgetary pressures are clear, the need for adequate testing is a recurrent theme in program failure reports and should be addressed,” the reviewers wrote.

The committee found that NASA was focusing too much of its technology development on getting astronauts back to the moon. “The committee did not find evidence that the extensibility of technologies to the exploration of Mars is a routine consideration. A possible consequence is the development of technologies that will not be extensible to the full VSE,” the report states.

Reviewers said NASA is “not taking advantage of expertise in the university and industrial sectors.” They also found that NASA’s technology development is too incremental, discouraging young researchers from entering the field. The space agency is also underfunding “low Technology Readiness Levels” research required to develop the technologies for the next 10 to 30 years.

Despite the concerns, the review committee said it was impressed with NASA’s efforts.

“The committee came away with an appreciation of the enormity of the task faced by the NASA workforce engaged in the Exploration Technology Development Program, especially in light of the constraints imposed by a limited budget relative to the exploration goals, the timescale laid out for meeting the requirements of the Vision for Space Exploration, and the desire to fully employ the NASA workforce at all of its centers,” reviewers wrote.

“In spite of these constraints, the committee was impressed with the intensity of the effort, the dedication and enthusiasm of the personnel to play a part in contributing to the VSE, the degree to which inter-NASA-center cooperation has developed, and the fact that all 10 NASA centers are engaged in the program.”