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Date:  May 11, 2010

Contacts:  Molly Galvin, Senior Media Relations Officer

Luwam Yeibio, Media Relations Assistant

Office of News and Public Information

202-334-2138; e-mail <news@nas.edu>

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

NASA's Declining Research Facilities Could Prevent Agency From Meeting Important Mission Goals

 

WASHINGTON -- NASA's abilities to meet major mission goals such as advancing aeronautics, exploring the outer planets, and understanding the beginnings of the universe are being seriously jeopardized by a steady and significant decrease in the agency's basic research capabilities, says a new report from the National Research Council.  Congress and NASA should provide the support necessary for needed equipment and services to conduct fundamental high-quality research.

 

"Solid basic research has always been a critical component for advancing NASA's missions," said John T. Best, co-chair of the committee that wrote the report and technical director of the Plans and Programs Directorate at Arnold Engineering Development Center, Arnold Air Force Base, Tennessee.  "To ensure future success, it's imperative that NASA restore and maintain its basic research laboratories."

 

The report examines laboratories at Goddard Space Flight Center, Glenn Research Center, Langley Research Center, Ames Research Center, Marshall Space Flight Center, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  With the exception of a new science building at Goddard, over 80 percent of the research laboratories at these facilities are more than 40 years old and need significant annual maintenance and upgrades.  Laboratory equipment and services are inadequate to address immediate and long-term research needs, and the agency is increasingly relying on contractors to support the labs and facilities.

 

"These research capabilities have taken years to develop and depend on highly competent and experienced personnel and infrastructure," said Joseph B. Reagan, co-chair of the committee and retired corporate vice president, Lockheed Martin Corp., Bethesda, Md.  "Without adequate resources, laboratories can deteriorate very quickly and will not be easily reconstituted.  Yet despite all the challenges, we found the majority of researchers remained dedicated to their work and focused on NASA's future."

 

NASA's deferred maintenance budget has grown from $1.77 billion in 2004 to $2.46 billion in 2009, presenting a "staggering" repair and maintenance bill for the future, the report says.  Facilities typically require more maintenance than current funding permits, and NASA is spending well below accepted industry guidelines on annual maintenance, repairs, and upgrades.  The lack of timely maintenance presents safety issues, particularly with large, high-powered equipment.  NASA should find a solution to these issues before any catastrophic failures occur that could seriously impact missions and research operations, the report says.

 

To restore these laboratories, NASA should strike a better balance of funding and leadership between long-term research and development and short-term mission programs, the report says.  These areas would be improved if they were managed separately.  In recent years, administrative and budgeting changes have led to a substantial reduction of long-term investment in fundamental technology.

 

NASA should improve the quality and equipment of its basic research laboratories to make them at least comparable with those at the U.S. departments of Energy and Defense, top-tier universities, and corporate laboratories, the report says.  A strategy to ensure continuity and retention of technical knowledge is also needed, especially if the agency continues to rely on contractors to support the labs and facilities.  In particular, NASA should increase resources to its aeronautics labs and facilities.  Funding for NASA's aeronautics programs has been reduced by 48 percent from fiscal years 2005 to 2009, impeding NASA's ability to advance U.S. technological leadership in this area.

 

The study was funded by NASA.  The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  They are independent, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under an 1863 congressional charter.  Committee members, who serve pro bono as volunteers, are chosen by the Academies for each study based on their expertise and experience and must satisfy the Academies' conflict-of-interest standards.  The resulting consensus reports undergo external peer review before completion.  For more information, visit http://national-academies.org/studycommitteprocess.pdf.  A committee roster follows.

 

Copies of Capabilities for the Future – An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu.  Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above). 

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[ This news release and report are available at http://national-academies.org ]

 

NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL

Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences

Space Studies Board

 

Committee on the Assessment of NASA Laboratory Capabilities

John T. Best (co-chair)
Technical Director
Plans and Programs Directorate
Arnold Engineering Development Center
Arnold, Tenn.

Joseph B. Reagan * (co-chair)
Vice President and General Manager
Lockheed Martin Missiles and Space Co. (retired)
Saratoga, Calif.

William F. Ballhaus Jr. *
President and CEO
The Aerospace Corp. (retired)
Los Angeles

Peter M. Banks *
Partner and Chair of the Scientific Advisory Board
Astrolabe Ventures Partners
Palo Alto, Calif.

Ramon L. Chase
DARPA Consultant
ANSER (Analytic Services Inc.)
Arlington, Va.

Ravi B. Deo
Exploration Systems Research and Technology Program Manager
Northrop Grumman Corp. (retired)
Cerritos, Calif.

Neil A. Duffie

Professor

Department of Mechanical  

Engineering

University of Wisconsin

Madison

Michael G. Dunn
Professor and Director
Gas Turbine Laboratory
Ohio State University
Columbus

 

Blair B. Gloss
Independent Consultant
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (retired)
Newport News, Va.

Marvine P. Hamner

Professorial Lecturer

George Washington University

Middleton, Md.

Wesley L. Harris *
Charles Stark Draper Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and
Associate Provost for Faculty Equity
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge

Basil Hassan
Manager
Aerosciences and Compressible Fluid Mechanics Department
Engineering Sciences Center
Sandia National Laboratories

Albuquerque, N.M.

Joan Hoopes
Senior Propulsion Test Engineer

Orbital Technologies Corp.

Madison, Wis.

William E. McClintock

Senior Research Associate

Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space  

Physics

University of Colorado

Boulder


Edward D. McCullough

Principal Scientist

Boeing Co. (retired)

Riverside, Calif.

 
Todd J. Mosher
Director of Spacecraft Business Development
Sierra Nevada Corp.
Littleton, Colo.

 

Eli Reshotko *

Kent H. Smith Professor Emeritus of

Engineering

Case Western Reserve University

Denver


James M. Tien *
Distinguished Professor and Dean
College of Engineering
University of Miami
Coral Gables, Fla.

Candace E. Wark
Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and
Associate Dean
Armour College of Engineering
Illinois Institute of Technology
Chicago

 

RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF

 

John Wendt

Study Director

 
* Member, National Academy of Engineering