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Witnesses Urge NASA to Follow National Academies' Guidance in Establishing National Aeronautics Policy

Press Release From: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
Posted: Tuesday, July 18, 2006

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WASHINGTON - Witnesses representing industry and academia today urged the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to follow the recommendations of two new National Research Council (NRC) reports on aeronautics as the agency works to reshape its national civil aeronautics research and development (R&D) program.

The two reports, Decadal Survey of Civil Aeronautics and Aeronautics Innovation: NASA's Challenges and Opportunities, recommend research priorities in the aeronautics field for the next decade and urge adoption of management practices to facilitate and accelerate innovation in NASA's aeronautics programs, respectively. The reports were released earlier this year.

The heads of the committees that produced the reports testified at today's Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee hearing, along with representatives from industry and academia. NASA's Associate Administrator for Aeronautics, Dr. Lisa Porter, will testify at a follow-on hearing in September.

Subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert (R-CA) said, "We, in the United States, must focus on our economic strengths and invest in high technology sectors to maintain global leadership. It is important to realize that NASA-developed technology can be found in virtually every airplane flying today. The return on the original investment has been tremendous!"

The NRC's Decadal Survey of Civil Aeronautics identifies 51 high priority research challenges, grouped into five broad categories where it recommends that NASA focus its energies: Aerodynamics and Aeroacoustics; Propulsion and Power; Materials and Structures; Dynamics, Navigation, Control and Avionics; and Intelligent and Autonomous Systems, Operations and Decision Making, Human Integrated Systems, and Networking and Communications. These areas are broadly in line with NASA's stated priorities.

Dr. Paul Kaminski, Chairman of the Decadal Survey committee, told the Subcommittee that, "Advances in these areas would have a significant, long-term impact on civil aeronautics. Accordingly, federal funds, facilities and staff should be made available to advance the high-priority Research and Technology challenges in each area." Dr. Kaminski is also Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Technovation.

Dr. Michael Romanowski, Vice President of Civil Aviation for the Aerospace Industries Association of America, which represents the aerospace industry, said "The Aerospace Industries Association agrees with the five common themes the study identified among the 51 high-priority research challenges. We also agree that NASA needs to create a more balanced split in the allocation of aeronautics R&D funding between in house research and external research."

Referring to the Decadal Survey, Dr. Parviz Moin, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University, said, "I do believe that it was an excellent study." He went on to stress the importance of hypersonics and role it could play in moving forward with manned missions to the Moon and Mars if provided sufficient resources. "I think the aeronautics directorate can play a significant role in this area but I don't think it has the means or budgetary resources to do so. Some of the funding for this research can come from the space exploration groups," Moin testified.

The Aeronautics Innovation report cites a growing discrepancy between the goals and objectives of NASA's aeronautics research program and the resources available to it. While the committee developed a roster of recommendations to improve management practices, it clearly indicated that the first order of business should be to bridge the gap between the stated goals and budget realities. The committee made numerous recommendations regarding technology transition planning, and personnel and financial management practices, to improve innovation in the program.

The project director of the committee that prepared the Aeronautics Innovation report, Dr. Stephen A. Merrill, said "There is, in fact, a growing discrepancy between the needs said to be served by NASA's [aeronautics] program and the resources available to it. Yet there is no agreed upon articulation of what the program should be trying to accomplish in this budget environment. Lacking clear direction, ARMD [Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate] and its predecessors have been attempting to do as much or more with less, spreading resources too thinly to ensure their effectiveness and the applicability of the R&D results."

The report also stressed the importance of greater input from industry and academia in setting aeronautics policy. Citing the importance of stakeholder involvement, Dr. Romanowski said, "NASA has retreated from its engagement with industry while focusing development and execution internally-this must be reversed," he said.

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