(Washington, DC) - Today the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing to examine issues surrounding NASA's strategic direction, including reviewing critical capabilities that underpin the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) role as the world's preeminent civil space exploration and aeronautics research and development agency, discussing potential steps to preserve and promote them, and reviewing the findings of a National Research Council (NRC) panel's report on NASA's Strategic Direction that were released last week. Testifying before the Committee was the Vice Chair of that NRC panel and aerospace experts from industry and academia.
Noting that the issues considered by the NRC panel are not new to the Committee, Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said "We have heard them [the issues] raised in one form or another in both this and previous Congresses. I hope that the findings of the NRC panel's assessment will encourage both the Administration and Congress to put NASA on a firmer footing and to recognize NASA for the national asset that it is". She emphasized the need to remember the criticality of investing in research and development (R&D), even in times of fiscal restraint. Ms. Johnson said "While NASA's programs are funded as part of the Federal domestic discretionary budget, we should not forget that those programs are long-term R&D undertakings, and they can't just be turned on and off whenever we have a short-term fiscal issue needing attention--not if we want them to be successful, and not if we want to maintain our commitment to the dedicated workforce that is trying to bring them to fruition. That is a challenge we are going to face in the coming months and years as we work to put the nation's financial house in order. Because we forget at our peril the hard reality that investments in R&D and innovation, such as in the programs and projects carried out at NASA are just that--investments--investments in our nation's future and in the future of our children."
In discussing the NRC panel's conclusion that the approach to and pace of a number of NASA's programs, projects, and activities will not be sustainable if the NASA budget remains flat as currently projected, Democratic Members emphasized the critical nature of NASA's work in promoting innovation, advancing knowledge, advancing the nation's peaceful geopolitical objectives, and inspiring America's youth to following careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
The Vice Chair of the NRC Committee on NASA's Strategic Direction, Maj. Gen. Ronald Sega, USAF (Retired) testified that while NASA has accomplished many important activities, such as the landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars, "there remains a lack of consensus on the agency's future direction among the United States' political leadership. Without such a consensus, the agency cannot be expected to develop or work effectively toward long term priorities. In addition, there is a mismatch between the portfolio of programs assigned to the agency and the budget allocated by Congress". Other witnesses highlighted the need for leadership, sense of purpose, and opening opportunities for partnership with other countries and private entities.
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