Press Release

House Committee on Science and Technology’s Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Examines Technology Development at NASA

By SpaceRef Editor
October 22, 2009
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House Committee on Science and Technology’s Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Examines Technology Development at NASA

(Washington, DC)–Today, the House Committee on Science and Technology’s Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics held a hearing on NASA’s efforts to define advanced concepts and develop innovative technologies.

“NASA’s technology development activities are critical not just to NASA’s future, but to the quality of life of our citizens and our nation’s competitiveness,” said Subcommittee Chairwoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ).

Since its creation in 1958, NASA has been one of the nation’s leading technology development engines through its investments in advanced aeronautics and space research and technology. Concepts and advanced technologies such as high-energy cryogenic engines, thermal protection for reusable launch vehicles, electric propulsion, solar and nuclear energy power systems, automation and robotics, and sophisticated sensors enabled landing on the moon, travel to other planets, and monitoring of the Earth’s environment. These technologies have spawned applications such as satellite communications, space-based weather observations, and advanced aviation navigation systems, that have become part of our basic national infrastructure.

One example cited by Chairwoman Giffords at the hearing is the extensive set of NASA-developed technologies that have made possible the commercial aircraft that are so vital our economy and quality of life. Chairwoman Giffords cited an image on the NASA website that that illustrated the contributions that NASA-developed technologies have made possible safer, cleaner, and more energy-efficient commercial aircraft–aircraft that are vital to our economy and quality of life.

“Many Members of Congress get in an aircraft like this several times a week, and yet I bet very few of them–or members of the public at large–recognize that NASA R&D made that plane possible,” said Giffords. “This picture is just one illustration of the impact of NASA’s research on our society and our economy. I have no doubt that each of NASA’s other enterprises could provide similar examples–and I hope they will–it’s a story that needs telling and re-telling.”

“I don’t think any of the Members here today need to be convinced that NASA should pursue a vigorous program of technology development,” said Giffords. “Rather, we want to explore what it will take to get such a revitalized program in place at the agency.”

NASA’s technology development efforts and programs have included objectives ranging from soliciting visionary advanced technology concepts to developing technologies for mission-specific requirements, advancing instrument capabilities, and qualifying hardware for space flight.

The 2008 NASA reauthorization (PL 110-422) focused attention on this issue, and included the language:

“NASA should make a sustained commitment to a robust long-term technology development activity. Such investments represent critically important ‘seed corn’ on which NASA’s ability to carry out challenging and productive missions in the future will depend.”

Chairwoman Giffords also cited the finding in the summary report of the Augustine panel on human spaceflight, which acknowledged the importance of technology development:

“The Committee strongly believes it is time for NASA to reassume its crucial role of developing new technologies for space.”

Members and witnesses discussed: the opportunities, challenges, and issues associated with NASA’s analysis of advanced concepts and long-term development of technology; NASA’s progress in responding to the provisions in NASA Authorization Acts and recommendations from external reviews associated with technology development; and NASA’s efforts to collaborate and coordinate with other federal agencies on technology development issues.

“I suspect that there may not be a “one-size-fits-all” organizational structure for technology development at NASA,” Giffords said. “But it’s not just a question of money or how the organizational deck chairs are arranged–NASA has to be smart and opportunistic in seeking out ways to get its technologies out to the private sector and to other potential government users.”

For more information, please visit the Committee’s website.

SpaceRef staff editor.