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Fostering Visions for the Future: A Review of the NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts
In summary, NIAC was, of itself, an innovative organizational concept that filled a void in NASA for long-term, innovative concepts. NIAC was successful in attracting a large number of proposals and funded about 10 percent of them for Phase I efforts. Thirty-three percent of the Phase I awards were extended into Phase II. It is likely that, given NASA’s budget pressures and near-term mission focus, none of these concepts would have been supported by NASA’s mission directorates. Thus, NIAC provided a vehicle for creativity that inspired new ideas and concepts, stimulated a group of innovative researchers, developed about 1 percent of all new ideas submitted to the point that they could secure additional funding, and allowed a few of these ideas to affect NASA’s long-term planning process (potentially leading to future NASA or other agency mission impacts).
In addition, due to the open nature of NIAC, its Web site, and its annual meetings, substantial publicity was afforded to NASA. Some of these efforts, like the Space Elevator project, have spawned widespread interest and annual competitions that were not heretofore envisioned. Through media coverage and the establishment of the NIAC Student Fellows program for undergraduate students, NIAC motivated young people to pursue engineering and science programs and begin a potential career in aeronautics and space. Perhaps out of these seedling efforts, a new cadre of innovators will arise to continue this advancement in aeronautics and space technology.