NASA criticised for its handling of ISS National Laboratory

NASA criticised for its handling of ISS National Laboratory

As well as the US Space agency, the Independent Review Team report found fault with the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), which is a not-for-profit organisation contracted by NASA to manage the ISS National Laboratory (ISSNL), which is allocated half the resources of that US share.

Specifically, the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 required NASA to enter into a cooperative agreement with such an organisation to manage the activities of the ISSNL for non-NASA use of the ISS research capabilities.

The criticisms in the report, which was commissioned by NASA itself in August 2019, were highlighted by SpaceNews.


Conflicts

There were issues found, for example, with internal conflicts between the two bodies. The Executive Summary states:

“The Independent Review Team (IRT) found that the ISSNL was created at a specific time for a specific purpose to address potential shortfalls in ISS utilization. However, the underlying set of expectations and predicted futures have evolved dramatically in the intervening 15 years. There are now entities using the ISS beyond the scope originally envisioned for the ISSNL as well as competition between NASA and the ISSNL for crew time, critical on-orbit facilities and ‘credit’ for research results.”

CASIS

There were also problems with the setup of CASIS, including it’s large board of directors (“a 15 person board for a 60 person organization is excessive”), who received higher than normal levels of compensation for a small non-profit organisation. The directors were paid around $40,000 a year for what was one day’s work a week.

“The IRT does not find that the ISSNL is a National Laboratory in any sense other than its legislative designation. To preclude the ISSNL from conducting work for its sponsor meets neither the spirit nor intent of a National Laboratory. There are four overarching issues with the current approach to managing the ISSNL: 1) The CASIS business structure does not reflect the typical structure or function of other non-profit organizations; 2) There is no routine and credible user community integration; 3) Oversight by the Federal sponsor has been poorly managed; and 4) Entry and exit procedures to/from the ISSNL are poorly defined.”

Unprofessional

The report certainly pulled no punches describing unprofessional behaviour on the part of NASA, and un-business like behavior on the part of CASIS:

“While the CA (cooperative agreement) mechanism can be used in a very flexible manner, it appears that NASA has increasingly revised the CA with CASIS to become less flexible, more prescriptive, and more demanding. Therefore, the CA with CASIS has not optimized a balance between scientific research and commercialization, and the relationship between NASA-funding scientific research and the ISSNL has not been cooperative.”

“Both this lack of flexibility and the ill-defined mission of the ISSNL have harmed NASA and CASIS, resulting in unprofessional behavior on the part of NASA, and un-business like behavior on the part of CASIS. This was the result of long-standing neglect of the proper approaches needed by CASIS to run a viable 501(c)(3), and by NASA as the Federal agency providing sole funding to this entity to oversee and manage the relationship.”

NASA criticised for its handling of ISS National LaboratoryYou can read the full report – A Strategy for the Future of the International Space Station (ISS) National Laboratory (ISSNL) and Commercial Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) Development

Image credit (top): NASA astronaut Tim Kopra sets up hardware for the Burning and Suppression of Solids – Milliken (BASS-M) investigation, which will test flame-retardant clothing against microgravity conditions. Results from the investigation will impact how flame-retardant textiles will be used on Earth and in space.

Recommended Articles

  • NASA criticised for its handling of ISS National Laboratory

    Nasa awards commercial cargo contract for lunar Gateway to SpaceX

  • NASA criticised for its handling of ISS National Laboratory

    NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover achieves record climb on Mars

  • NASA criticised for its handling of ISS National Laboratory

    NASA selects first two scientific payloads for Lunar Gateway

  • NASA criticised for its handling of ISS National Laboratory

    Spiders in Space – Maxar wins NASA contract for robotic in-space assembly