Report advocates refocusing on space exploration and transferring other programmes

NASA must be restructured and refocused on space exploration if the vision of missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond is to be realised, concludes the commission created to examine implementation of the new US space policy. Programmes that do not support the new vision, and their budgets, should be moved to other government agencies, the commission says. "It they don't fit the vision, find them a new home," says commission chairman Pete Aldridge.

Aeronautics research should stay with NASA, for now, "because there are some synergies between aeronautics and the Earth sciences part of the vision", says Aldridge. But NASA's research agenda should be re-examined every couple of years, he says, because "all funds have to contribute to the vision".

The final report by the nine-member Aldridge commission unanimously supports the new vision, concluding that space exploration is vital to US technological leadership, economic vitality and security, as it will stimulate education and build industrial capability. The vision is affordable within available resources, the report says, but NASA must make more use of private industry and international partnerships.

To ensure the vision is sustainable over several decades, the report recommends establishment of a permanent multi-agency space exploration steering council, and a "go as you can pay" plan where goals are adjusted as technology advances so as to remain affordable. "We do not know what technologies will be available in 2020, so we do not know the cost. It would be a mistake to base this on total mission cost," says Aldridge.

The report recommends that NASA use private industry for access to low-Earth orbit so that it can focus resources on difficult and high-risk tasks. NASA's 10 centres should be transformed into federally funded research and development centres that are managed by the private sector and can work for private industry.

NASA headquarters should be streamlined, and three new organisations created: a technical advisory board modelled on the Defense Science Board; an independent cost estimating group; and an organisation modelled on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency that incubates high-risk/high-payoff technologies "while tolerating periodic failures".

NASA must evolve the exploration architecture iteratively through spiral development, using lead system integrators, and must attract non-aerospace businesses, the report says. The commission recommends special project teams be formed immediately to develop, within six months, roadmaps for enabling technologies, with a priority on developing a plan for affordable heavylift launch capability.

Two approaches for international participation are suggested: independent missions contributing to the overall goals; or the Joint Strike Fighter model, with participants selected to provide components for an integrated mission.



Source: Flight International