NASA’s Basic Research Capabilities in Jeopardy

Goddard Space Flight Center (NASA-CSVS)

Not only has the United States effectively abandoned its commitment to manned exploration of outer space – deferring it ever further into the future since the last substantive efforts nearly 40 years ago – but it has also allowed its infrastructure for basic research at NASA to decline precipitously in recent years.

A Committee on the Assessment of NASA Laboratory Capabilities has released a 113-page report on Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research. Their conclusion:

“Over the past 5 years or more, there has been a steady and significant decrease in NASA’s laboratory capabilities, including equipment, maintenance, and facility upgrades. This adversely affects the support of NASA’s scientists, who rely on these capabilities, as well as NASA’s ability to make the basic scientific and technical contributions that others depend on for programs of national importance. The fundamental research community at NASA has been severely impacted by the budget reductions that are responsible for this decrease in laboratory capabilities, and as a result NASA’s ability to support even NASA’s future goals is in serious jeopardy.”

In particular, “Over 80 percent of NASA facilities are more than 40 years old and need significant maintenance and upgrades to preserve the safety and continuity of operations for critical missions.”

Moreover, “Deferred maintenance grew from $1.77 billion to $2.46 billion from 2004 to 2009, presenting a staggering repair and maintenance bill for the future. The facilities that house fundamental research activities at NASA are typically old and require more maintenance than current funding will permit. As a result, they are crowded and often lack the modern layouts and utilities that improve operational efficiency.

“The equipment and facilities of NASA’s fundamental research laboratories are inferior to those witnessed by committee members at comparable laboratories at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), at top-tier U.S. universities, and at many corporate research institutions and are comparable to laboratories at the Department of Defense (DOD). If its basic research facilities were equipped to make them state of the art, NASA would be in a better position to maintain U.S. leadership in the space, Earth, and
aeronautical sciences and to attract the scientists and engineers needed for the future.”

For more on the committee’s findings and recommendations, see the report.

Update: The first and the last men to walk on the moon express their opinion of the prevailing level of commitment to manned exploration of outer space in this article in New Scientist.

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Published in: on May 13, 2010 at 9:12 am  Leave a Comment  

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