Where should NASA engineers be placing more attention in preparing for future space activities? A committee of the National Research Council studied the question and came up with six technological areas for which additional R&D "should be prioritized." The areas include: 1)tools for mining resources from the moon, Mars, or other planets, with the focus on extraction, processing, and storage methods; 2)high-frequency, wideband interplanetary communications systems with reduced weight, power requirements, and costs; 3)microelectromechanical systems for use in spacecraft sensors, communications, navigation, power, and propulsion; 4)safer nuclear power systems with improved energy-conversion efficiency for deep-space missions; 5)radiation-resistant computer memories and electronics through lightweight shielding, protective materials, and data-recovery methods; and 6)precisely controlled antennas, mirrors, and other space structures needed to develop giant space radars and telescopes. The committee says NASA should ensure that much of the research it funds in these six technology areas be conducted through private firms and universities. In the next three to five years, the report adds, NASA should reassess whether the areas should continue to be developed or whether other fields hold more promise.
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