National Academies Provides Solid Blueprint for NASA's Aeronautics Research Program

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


(Washington, DC) The House Committee on Science's Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics today held a hearing on the future of NASA's aeronautics program. Experts caution that declining aeronautics R&D budgets have cast serious doubt on the future relevance of aeronautics research at NASA -endangering U.S. progress and competitiveness in this important field.

"Our federal aeronautics research capabilities and accomplishments have long been the envy of the world," stated Subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO). "Research has enabled significant advances in air travel, improved our quality of life, and enhanced our national security--yet the unfortunate reality is that instead of building on our past accomplishments we in fact are shrinking our investment in this important research area."

Under the Administration's budget plan, funding for NASA's aeronautics programs would decline by 32% between FY 2004-2007, with no improvement in the situation anticipated through the end of the decade. As part of that decline, NASA's funding commitment to research on the next generation air transportation system would be cut over the next five years.

Today's hearing focused on a report by the National Research Council of The National Academies entitled "Decadal Survey of Civil Aeronautics: Foundation for the Future." The Academy report represents the consensus of a distinguished panel led by Dr. Paul Kaminski, former undersecretary of defense for acquisition and technology and member of the National Academy of Engineering. The panel consulted with a broad range of experts to develop a prioritized set of 51 research challenges to guide NASA's aeronautics research program over the next decade.

The Decadal Survey panel, led by Dr. Kaminski, stated in their report that "the next decade of U.S. civil aeronautics research and technology (R&T) development should provide a foundation for achieving four high priority strategic objectives: Increase capacity, Improve safety and reliability, Increase efficiency and performance, and Reduce energy consumption and environmental impact." In addition, the Committee found that "civil aeronautics R&T should also consider two lower-priority strategic objectives: Take advantage of synergies with national and homeland security, and Support the space program."

NASA - which did not participate in today's hearing - has been restructuring its aeronautics program to focus on basic research. However, a number of witnesses today hearing cautioned that an aeronautics program just based on basic research is not likely to meet national needs.

Dr. Stephen Merrill, the Executive Director of a recent National Research Council study entitled "Aeronautics Innovation: NASA's Challenges and Opportunities" stated, "If [NASA's] Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD) is to sustain its relevance and support, it should continue to have a portfolio quite diversified in terms of the stage of technology being developed, even if that means significantly fewer projects."

Dr. Michael Romanowski, Vice President for Civil Aviation at the Aerospace Industries Association added, "The new NASA R&D research direction largely eliminates cutting-edge demonstration or validation activities (including X planes) that have proven both highly valuable and inspiring. Abandoning transitional R&D demonstrations removes a major tool used to validate fundamental research projects and to conduct research that cannot be performed in laboratories or on computers."

"The clear message I take away from current reports and today's witnesses is that while a robust program of basic research is necessary, it is clearly not sufficient if we want to make real progress in meeting national needs with our aeronautics program," added Rep. Udall. "Yet, I see little in NASA's plans that would lead me to believe they are prepared to fund any significant amount of research involving more advanced technological development and demonstration efforts - in fact, the opposite is the case."

"Keeping U.S. aeronautics on a path to address important national goals will take more than positive words from this Administration - it will take a hard dollar commitment and a research program that is relevant," concluded Rep. Udall. "The Academies' Decadal Survey not only underscores the importance of federal aeronautics research and its relevance to the needs of our society -it also provides a constructive way forward if NASA will heed its recommendations."

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