Redirect: “The NACA Model for Technology Transfer”

NACA LogoIn April 2012 I wrote an op-ed for Space News on “The NACA Model for Technology Transfer.” I also emphasized it on this blog last year as well. Check that out here. I Am re-directing readers to it now because I keep seeing comments from various people, as well as in the media, that the future of NASA should be more oriented toward aerospace research as was the case with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), NASA’s Immediate predecessor. The real question is, what does that mean; everyone seemingly has their own definition and there is little overlap between meanings from one person to another. I tried to lay out in this article what it meant for the NACA; if that is truly the consensus of what the future direction of NASA should be so be it. But I don’t see a consensus in the debate on this issue at present. Regardless, I offer this as a statement of the NACA model for technology transfer.

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2 Responses to Redirect: “The NACA Model for Technology Transfer”

  1. Bill Adkins says:

    I don’t know the history of NACA nearly as well as you do, but to me a key part of adapting the NACA model to NASA today is having a strong team of technical talent and facilities in the government performing basic and applied research (6.1/6.2 in DoD parlance) as well as technology development, and even some systems development. The research work would be largely done in-house, and results shared with the broader aerospace and technology community. I’d look to places like the Naval Research Laboratory as modern examples. NRL does outstanding research, as well as builds prototype systems, including space systems. Having people with hands-on experience in government, free of corporate conflicts of interest, is an indispensable resource and brain-trust to help managers make wise technical and programmatic decisions. I realize this may not be precisely true to the historic NACA model, but something to consider.


  2. Charles Miller says:


    As one of the people promoting the NACA model as the future of NASA, both within and now external to NASA, I agree with you that there is not agreement on that tactical level details of what that means. When I brief this, I am proposing it as an alternative paradigm at the strategic level—of public private-partnership (PPP)—that is different from today’s model where NASA is primarily the designer, builder, operator of space systems. In a PPP, those roles should be divided up according to which partner is most appropriate for each role. There are many different possibilities.

    Under a PPP model there are a number of choices, many of which deserve further analysis and further consideration. The best path choice, in many instances, depends on the specific tactical objectives and other relevant circumstances.

    I don’t think we should narrow down the choices too quickly.

    As you well know, even in the NACA, great debates broke out about what the NACA should be doing. There was the big fight over the balance between “fundamental research” and “solving practical engineering problems” (Max Munk et al) in the 1920s. There was also fights over who got access to research, over how technology was transferred, and under what terms the NACA’s unique facilities would be shared with industry (as your article discusses). After the 20’s, for political reasons, the NACA basically removed itself from the business of acting as an official “national advisory committee” — providing advice to the White House and Congress — because of the political heat they took over their position (or lack thereof) on splitting a USAF out of the US Army. That “national advisory” function was, in my judgement, perhaps the most valuable functions they played in their first decade of existence. But it was significantly truncated by the end of the 20s. Some of things that I call “NACA-like” in my writings — such as the use of Air Mail, which has much in common with ISS Commercial Cargo Services — was not an NACA program, although the NACA “advised” US government decision makers on the need for an air mail program to stimulate demand.

    In summary, I agree there appears to be a growing number of people in support of an NACA like structure for NASA. But, beyond that, there are many details to be worked about what that means.

    Perhaps the subject of another book, and a discussion topic for policy conference?


    – Charles


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