Press Release

House Committee on Science and Technology’s Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Examines NASA’s Aeronautics R&D Program

By SpaceRef Editor
May 1, 2008
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(Washington, DC) – Today, the House Committee on Science and Technology’s Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics held a hearing to review NASA’s current Aeronautics R&D program and discuss ways to make it more relevant to the nation’s needs. This hearing is part of a series of oversight hearings to review the major programs and to provide input to the Committee’s NASA reauthorization legislative activity. Among other topics, the hearing examined the R&D challenges related to the environmental impacts of aviation, safety, and development of the nation’s next generation air transportation system.

“NASA’s aeronautics program is one of the things that make NASA relevant to the nation’s needs. Yet, it has become clear that NASA’s aeronautics program has been significantly shortchanged in recent years when it comes to getting the resources required to address our nation’s needs,” stated Subcommittee Chairman Mark Udall (D-CO).

“Ensuring that America’s aviation system maintains a safety record second to none is my highest priority. In doing that, we must focus on research that will ensure that the nation’s air traffic management system will be able to meet anticipated demand while preserving safety and improving passengers’ air travel experience,” added Udall.

For decades NASA has significantly contributed to America’s aeronautical R&D, which is used in both civil and military systems. In late 2005, NASA began restructuring its aeronautics programs, and since that time, the agency has transitioned from a program focused on applied R&D and technology demonstrations to one focused on more fundamental research.

Unfortunately, these changes have occurred while the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) initiative, which aims to develop a more efficient and more environmentally friendly national air transportation system, has increased the need for applied R&D across a range of important areas, including air traffic management, aviation safety, and aviation’s impacts on the environment. And, because of the growing the challenges posed by climate change to the aviation sector, the need for NASA’s aeronautics R&D will be intensified. NASA’s FY09 budget provides $446.5 million for the Aeronautics Research Program – a decrease of $62.5 million from the FY08 appropriated amount. The Aeronautics Research Program budget funds Fundamental Aeronautics, Airspace Systems, Aviation Safety, and the Aeronautics Test Program. As a point of comparison, NASA Aeronautics funding was about $1.85 billion (2006 dollars) in 1994 – the current budget request is thus only about 24% of that level.

“The decline in NASA’s aeronautics funding is making it increasingly difficult to maintain an aeronautics research program that will be capable of stepping up to the challenges the nation’s aviation sector will be facing in the coming decades. In short, the future relevance of NASA’s aeronautics program is at risk — just when the need for NASA’s research contributions is greatest,” added Udall. “Aeronautics needs to be a priority at NASA. It is as simple as that. I think the NASA Authorization Act of 2005 got it right when it reaffirmed that ‘Aeronautics research remains a core mission of NASA’.”

The NASA Authorization Act of 2005 established the development of a national policy to guide the aeronautics R&D programs of the U.S. through 2020. The Act specified the priority areas of research for aeronautics through FY2011, set a basis for selecting priorities, specified the facilities and personnel needed to carry out the aeronautics program through FY2011, and instituted the budget assumption on which the policy is based.

The following witnesses testified today before the Subcommittee: Dr. Jaiwon Shin, Associate Administrator, Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, NASA; Carl J. Meade, Co-Chair, Committee for the Assessment of NASA’s Aeronautics Research Program, National Research Council; Preston A. Henne, Senior Vice President, Programs, Engineering and Test, Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation; and Dr. Ilan Kroo, Professor, Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Stanford University.

For more information on this hearing or to access witness testimony, visit the Committee’s website.

SpaceRef staff editor.