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NASA OIG: NASA's Development of Radiation Monitoring Instruments for the International Space Station

Press Release From: NASA Office of Inspector General
Posted: Thursday, September 29, 2011

image NASA Inspector General Paul K. Martin today released a report that examines NASA's efforts to develop radiation monitoring instruments for the International Space Station. Space radiation poses a danger to NASA's astronauts, increasing their risk of cataracts, cancer, damage to the central nervous system, and cardiovascular fatality. Consequently, protecting astronauts from overexposure to space radiation has been a fundamental requirement since space travel began.

NASA installed a suite of instruments on the International Space Station (ISS) between October 2000 and April 2002 to monitor astronauts' exposure to radiation while aboard the ISS. However, these instruments have exceeded their design life; experienced varying degrees of failure, including in one case complete failure; and do not meet all ISS medical operations and radiation monitoring requirements. Consequently, NASA created the Advanced Radiation Instrumentation (ARI) Project in 2008 to develop a new suite of instruments and ensure that NASA has the real-time information about radiation levels inside and outside the ISS needed to protect astronaut crews.

This Office of Inspector General (OIG) review found that NASA has poorly managed the development of these replacement radiation monitoring instruments. Specifically, total estimated ARI Project costs increased approximately 62 percent, from $16 million to $26 million; the Project has been de-scoped and will not include all planned elements; and delivery of the new instruments has been delayed by almost 3 years. In addition, until April 2010 NASA was developing an instrument that did not meet stated radiation monitoring requirements.

We also found that the ISS Program has never monitored astronaut exposure to neutrons in accordance with Program requirements and had not adequately analyzed, planned, tracked, or controlled the resulting risk. Because the ISS Program took immediate corrective action when we raised this issue during our audit field work, we did not make any recommendations on this matter in the report.

To address our other findings, we recommended that the ISS Program Manager ensure that all future ISS-related projects follow the tenets of NASA's project management policy and do not proceed to the implementation phase until managers demonstrate that projects are properly anchored by firm requirements, realistic cost and schedule estimates, sufficient funding, and successful completion of a Preliminary Design Review. We also recommended that the Director of Space Life Sciences for Johnson Space Center determine whether the current ISS medical operations requirement for external radiation monitoring is appropriate and formally initiate steps to update the medical operations requirements as needed.

NASA agreed to take steps to implement our recommendations, but disputed our finding that the ARI Project has been "poorly managed." In its response, NASA said "design complexity and unexpected manufacturing challenges" for one instrument and "underestimation of the [technological] maturity" for another instrument resulted in the Project's cost and schedule growth. However, we believe these explanations only confirm that NASA exhibited poor management with regard to the ARI Project.
The full report can be found on the OIG's website at http://oig.nasa.gov/ under "Reading Room" or at the following link: http://oig.nasa.gov/audits/reports/FY11/IG-11-027.pdf

Please contact Renee Juhans at (202) 358-1220 if you have questions.

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