A Framework for Readiness
When NASA moves to put science into practice, as in the case of the recent launch with SpaceX on May 30, 2020, the team relies on a technological readiness system to evaluate how prepared they are for the big time. This system is based on Technological Readiness Levels (TRLs).
NASA’s benchmarking system consists of nine levels. It’s a way of ranking the “maturity” of any given technology, with higher levels indicating greater readiness for action. TRL4 means a system component has been validated in a laboratory environment, by TRL7 a system prototype has been demonstrated in a space environment, and to reach TRL9 the actual system must be “flight proven” through successful mission operations. (You might argue that SpaceX’s Crew Dragon has reached TRL9 with the arrival of astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley at the International Space Station on May 31st and the successful return of the Falcon rocket booster at Florida's Port Canaveral on June 2nd).
While different applied projects and different fields of study will inevitably have their own case-by-case considerations, anyone who works near the crossroads of basic and applied research should be familiar with asking this question (and its many subquestions): is our science mission-ready?
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