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book coverNear-Earth Object Surveys and Hazard Mitigation StrategiesInterim Report   (ASEB ,SSB)
Released 2009-12-30

The United States is currently the only country with an active, government-sponsored effort to detect and track potentially hazardous near-Earth objects (NEOs). Congress has mandated that NASA detect and track 90 percent of NEOs that are 1 kilometer in diameter or larger. These objects represent a great potential hazard to life on Earth and could cause global destruction. NASA is close to accomplishing this goal. Congress has more recently mandated that by 2020 NASA should detect and track 90 percent of NEOs that are 140 meters in diameter or larger, a category of objects that is generally recognized to represent a very significant threat to life on Earth if they strike in or near urban areas. Achieving this goal may require the building of one or more additional observatories, possibly including a space-based observatory. Congress directed NASA to ask the National Research Council to review NASA's near-Earth object programs. This interim report addresses some of the issues associated with the survey and detection of NEOs. The final report will contain findings and recommendations for survey and detection, characterization, and mitigation of near-Earth objects based on an integrated assessment of the problem.

book coverFostering Visions for the FutureA Review of the NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts   (ASEB)
Released 2009-10-21

The NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) was formed in 1998 to provide an independent source of advanced aeronautical and space concepts that could dramatically impact how NASA develops and conducts its missions. Until the program's termination in August 2007, NIAC provided an independent open forum, a high-level point of entry to NASA for an external community of innovators, and an external capability for analysis and definition of advanced aeronautics and space concepts to complement the advanced concept activities conducted within NASA. Throughout its 9-year existence, NIAC inspired an atmosphere for innovation that stretched the imagination and encouraged creativity. As requested by Congress, this volume reviews the effectiveness of NIAC and makes recommendations concerning the importance of such a program to NASA and to the nation as a whole, including the proper role of NASA and the federal government in fostering scientific innovation and creativity and in developing advanced concepts for future systems. Key findings and recommendations include that in order to achieve its mission, NASA must have, and is currently lacking, a mechanism to investigate visionary, far-reaching advanced concepts. Therefore, a NIAC-like entity should be reestablished to fill this gap.

book coverRadioisotope Power SystemsAn Imperative for Maintaining U.S. Leadership in Space Exploration   (ASEB ,SSB)
Released 2009-07-14

Spacecraft require electrical energy. This energy must be available in the outer reaches of the solar system where sunlight is very faint. It must be available through lunar nights that last for 14 days, through long periods of dark and cold at the higher latitudes on Mars, and in high-radiation fields such as those around Jupiter. Radioisotope power systems (RPSs) are the only available power source that can operate unconstrained in these environments for the long periods of time needed to accomplish many missions, and plutonium-238 (238Pu) is the only practical isotope for fueling them. Plutonium-238 does not occur in nature. The committee does not believe that there is any additional 238Pu (or any operational 238Pu production facilities) available anywhere in the world.The total amount of 238Pu available for NASA is fixed, and essentially all of it is already dedicated to support several pending missions--the Mars Science Laboratory, Discovery 12, the Outer Planets Flagship 1 (OPF 1), and (perhaps) a small number of additional missions with a very small demand for 238Pu. If the status quo persists, the United States will not be able to provide RPSs for any subsequent missions.

book coverAn Assessment of NASA's National Aviation Operations Monitoring Service   (ASEB)
Released 2009-12-24

The National Research Council of the National Academies was requested by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to perform an independent assessment of NASA's National Aviation Operations Monitoring Service (NAOMS) project, which was a survey administered to pilots from April 2001 through December 2004. The NRC reviewed various aspects of the NAOMS project, including the survey methodology, and conducted a limited analysis of the publicly available survey data. An Assessment of NASA's National Aviation Operations Monitoring Service presents the resulting analyses and findings.