Why Should We Continue the NASA Space Program? Research Proposal

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¶ … NASA Space Program?

Our Nations' Greatest Gains are based on Space Exploration

Our nation's crisis economically today is directly related to the lack of consistent innovation gained from investments in space exploration and the many processes required to make these programs successful. From the most fundamental aspects of project management that today guide the development, testing and commercial launch of commercial, military and private aircraft to the development of razor-thin chemical polymers (Fischetti, Herbert, 68) that act as heat shields of returning capsules, the space program delivers a higher national return on investment than any other activity today. What makes the continual investment in space exploration and programs so critical in these recessionary times is that America needs a continual stream of new innovation at the product and process level of grow. Without innovation, American's economy will shrink and fall victim to other global economies that have nothing more to offer than a lower labor hour. The intent of this paper is to discuss why America needs to aggressively invest in space exploration and programs. it's important to take a strategic perspective in evaluating the many contributions of the Space program to America's global competitiveness. There are the everyday products made possible from NASA's R&D contributions, yet the greater, more far-reaching and fundamentally world-changing contributions need to be kept in mind. Consider the many innovations in airborne astronomy (Semmel, Davis, Leucht, Rowe, 33), project management and systems engineering (Pruitt, 34) and the necessity of creating entirely new processes and the extent of NASA's contributions become clear. NASA has categorized their many contributions to innovation into seven categories that fill a 217-page downloadable e-book (NASA Innovation Analysis). Divided into the industry contributions to health & medicine; transportation; consumer, home and recreation; environmental and agricultural resources; computer technology; and industrial productivity, these categories represent over one hundred product, process and system innovations.

Apollo Program Contributions

That immortal speech from President John F. Kennedy that galvanized the nation with the vision that landing a man on the moon was achievable and was an imperative for the United States led to one of the most productive eras of research, development, discovery, innovation and correspondingly, one of the greatest eras of economic growth of the 20th century in the U.S. This was no accident. Everyone in the U.S. was fascinated with the Apollo programs' progress and the engineering teams working on it were on a mission to beat the Russians to the moon. It was called the Space Race but you could have called it America's passion during the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s. Out of this intense passion to succeed and see America win the race to the moon, a myriad of innovations came into existence.

The most valuable of these were the systems, processes and techniques that gave America the ability to manage large-scale, very intricate and highly integrated projects to a deadline and budget. Project management during the Apollo programs progressed from the use of large, quadrille pads that lined the expansive halls of prime contractors Lockheed, Martin Marietta, McDonnell Douglas, Northrop and others (Pruitt, 33, 34) to the use of software-based constraint systems that could optimize development schedules on costing, deadlines, dependencies of subcontractors. The lessons learned from the Apollo program in project management is today also being used in complex design analysis and constraint modeling for transportation systems (NASA Innovation Analysis, 76). As is true of many of the process-based technological innovations from the space program, fundamental project management lessons learned were quickly transferred to the private sector programs for commercial aircraft. The generational jump and cost efficiency of Boeing over French competitor Airbus today can be attributed to the contributions of project management as an innovation process, as can the field of systems engineering. It is important to realize that process-based innovations such as project management have fundamentally re-ordered America's ability to compete in industries of high national interest including aerospace and defense, and commercial aircraft. Without America leading the world in project management innovation, commercial air travel today would be exponentially more expensive, less reliable, less maintainable, and be only for the rich. Enterprise project management, an Apollo Program initiative, is directly responsible for low-cost airfare in the world today.

A second area that has experienced the multiplicative benefits of innovation directly as a result of investments in the Apollo programs is the entire area of advanced chemical polymers, compounds, and the use of chemical substrates for creating welds that are resistant to extreme heat, centrifugal and gravity-based force. The invention of chemically-derived welds (NASA Innovation Analysis, 154) and the continual refining of the bonding agent Polyimide (NASA Innovation Analysis, 156) further illustrate the multiplicative effects of innovation that Apollo and follow-on programs were the catalyst for. Ironically today much of the country is buying hybrid vehicles and attempting to save the planet often saying the space exploration and investment in space programs is not needed. Yet when any of these critics climb into their high-efficiency vehicle, they out to take a moment and thank the NASA engineers and the millions invested in polymers that made light-weight but exceptionally durable plastic a reality (Fischetti, Herbert, 68, 69). Most fascinating however from the progression of the Apollo program investments in polymers and chemical innovation has been the impact these advances have made in the area of microprocessor and system performance in large-scale computing systems (Arepalli, Fireman, Huffman, Maloney, 27, 28). What emerges then is evidence of just how multiplicative the benefits of innovation are, and how one significant innovation, in this case in polymers, can lead to exceptional gains in many industries, from auto manufacturing to large-scale computing.

Space Shuttle Innovations

The Space Shuttle translated the vision of a reusable spacecraft into reality, also making the idea of an orbiting lab possible. From this orbiting lab, there have literally been thousands of innovations that have aided the United States in industries of very high national interest including the use of telemetry and life sciences.

The unique vantage point of an orbiting lab, as the Space Shuttle is, provided astronauts, many of which have PhD degrees in astronomy, engineering, and with the a unique vantage point to complete telemetry analysis (Semmel, Davis, Leucht, Rowe, 34, 35). The goals of these telemetry analyses have varied by mission, with the astronaut teams concentrating on Mars analysis on certain mission and analysis of Earth on others. The teams at Google owe a debt of gratitude to the investments in Mars Mapping technology (NASA Innovation Analysis, 140) and the processes it has perfected. Google Street View is based on the lessons learned from this analysis. Google and all other users of mapping software also have benefited from Earth-based analysis using telemetry as well (NASA Innovation Analysis, 122).

Second, the lessons learned in long-term zero-gravity experiments in biology and life sciences continue to deliver dividends as well. The developments of entirely new approaches to creating biological compounds that in turn have direct implications the development of pharmaceuticals has also progressed rapidly as well (Hertzfeld, 311). Life sciences contributions continue from the Space Shuttle as a result.

Space Station: Global Collaboration Can Work

From the many process-centric lessons learned during the Apollo program and the development of project management and systems engineering as essential tools for industries of national important, the Space Station showed just how far these processes has progressed.

The progression of project management from being only able to deal with financial and time constraints had as a result of the SpaceStation's need for real-time global collaboration grown to support the development of multilingual requirements in real-time (Zervos, Siegel, 1630). This also led to an entirely new approach to managing multinational projects that centered on creating virtual meeting technologies including telepresence (Bielski, 50, 51) a technology Cisco has pioneered as a result of virtual meeting requirements from the SpaceStation project. Telepresence projects a hologram of a person as if they were standing in the room. It is a very expensive technology to install in companies, costing $160,000 per implementation, yet it saves millions of dollars in travel costs and lost work time as a result. Once again, the innovations within the space program led to significant gains in private sector profitability.

A second major innovation from the continued investment in the SpaceStation is the continual development of robotics. There are today people globally who can use their limbs again because of the investments the United States made in the space programs, specifically the SpaceStation. These robotic arms also are used for intricate medical surgeries and emergency response to chemical, biological, and nuclear material spills (NASA Innovation Analysis, 46, 56).

Conclusion

The many, many contributions of the space program over the last five decades have revolutionized the United States, balanced global powers and kept America at the forefront of economic growth. If one just considers how massive the many innovations' contributions were from Apollo alone and the period of unprecedented economic growth that was attained, one can see that there is a… [END OF PREVIEW]

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