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NASA Science Technology

NASA Squandering Technology Commercialization Opportunities 48

coondoggie writes "The commercialization of all manner of space technologies has always been a forte of NASA, but the space agency faces a number of economic and internal challenges if that success is to continue. A report by released this week (PDF) by NASA Inspector General Paul Martin that assesses NASA's technology commercialization efforts is highly critical of the space agency's ability to identify and get important technologies out of the lab and out the door to commercial applications."
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NASA Squandering Technology Commercialization Opportunities

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  • Re:Because... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Nidi62 ( 1525137 ) on Thursday March 01, 2012 @06:05PM (#39214823)
    It looks to me that selling the products of their research is pretty much the only way NASA is going to get any funding these days. If they can develop new technologies and then license them for production, they could make up for their loss of funding. The only trick would be to make sure the money isn't funneled away to politicians pet projects or to cover something else.
  • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Thursday March 01, 2012 @06:51PM (#39215279)

    The commercialization of all manner of space technologies has always been a forte of NASA

    I'm sure in some alternate universe, this is true. Not here though. NASA's "spinoffs" have always been one of the more bizarre myths of the program. Most such spinoffs are really companies getting paid to do what they intended to do anyway.

    I've had the opportunity with a former non profit employer to go looking through NASA research, (sometimes dating back to when NASA was NACA), and a common scenario is someone gets paid for a few years to do something interesting, they write a bunch of papers, and then the whole thing gets deep-sixed while all the staff move on to the next research project. In one case the surviving researcher barely remembered the research because no one asked about it for 40 years!

    Meanwhile how seriously does NASA take all this research? They're chucking it from their ever shrinking library at NASA headquarters, for starters.

    This thing of turning public funds into research that nobody reads has been going on as long as NASA has existed. That's why I rolled my eyes at the above statement.

  • by Okian Warrior ( 537106 ) on Thursday March 01, 2012 @07:42PM (#39215707) Homepage Journal

    The annual budget of NASA is around $18 billion. For comparison, the annual revenue of WalMart is $421, Toyota is $228 and AT&T is $124 (billion).

    The budget of Bell Labs peaked at around $3.6 billion in today's dollars.

    NASA claims to generate a ton of innovation which helps to drive the economy. I see no reason not to privatize NASA by running it in the same way as Bell Labs - work on all sorts of stuff, but sometimes direct your focus on useful stuff for both NASA's main mission and economic innovation.

    NASA should be self supporting. Whenever they uncover something which would be useful in the marketplace, they should market it and get some return for the effort.

    Over time we could slowly wean them away from the government teat, and allow them to be self directed. Instead of wasting gobs of cash on political projects with no good scientific mandate (*cough* space station *cough*), they could choose their own course and focus on things which actual scientists think is useful.

    Licensing, patents, renting expertise, products (make and sell satellites), and charging for access to space come immediately to mind. Given the cost of sending a satellite into space, would it really be that hard to take in $18 billion in revenue?

    I dunno, I'm probably not taking human nature into account.

  • by recharged95 ( 782975 ) on Thursday March 01, 2012 @08:20PM (#39216003) Journal

    Human nature == Supply and demand.

    NASA generates so much knowledge from pure research and a decent amount in applied research that there's no market to leverage it.

    Back in the day, there was a market, the old silicon valley, bell labs, IBM R&D, HRL, Corning, etc... There was a demand aspect of corporate facilities and research universities not associated with NASA that would leverage output from NASA. Today, NASA is tightly coupled with tenured funded professors (i.e. no real cutting edge research), there are no big corp labs, and silicon valley is more interested in advertising bucks or how you make fake money (i.e. social gaming).

    NASA can continue to innovate a lot--that they actually still do, but the outlet to absorb it is just not there.

Science may someday discover what faith has always known.