September 1, 2010

Obama Space Plan Gains Support of Nobel Winners

President Obama's proposals to change the focus of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has won the support of 14 Nobel laureates, as well as several former American astronauts and senior NASA officials who have signed their names to an open letter addressed to House Committee on Science and Technology Bart Gordon.

In the letter, the 30 signees criticize a bill, currently under consideration in the house, that they claim will leave technology development, commercial spaceflight, robotic exploration, and university investment programs "substantially underfunded." Meanwhile, the President's plan "revitalizes and expands our investments" in those key areas, the authors assert.

"NASA has long been a critical component of American economic competitiveness, inspiring young people to enter careers in science and engineering, ensuring American leadership in human spaceflight, and driving cutting-edge research," the letter said. "However, we have watched with concern in recent years as NASA's programs for advanced technology, commercial spaceflight, student research, and robotic exploration have been scaled back or postponed."

Since 2005, they say, technology funding has been cut by more than half, several robotics missions were scrapped, and funding for commercial spacecraft necessary to carry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) was unavailable. That will be reversed under the President's plan, they claim, and investments in those programs "will benefit all parts of our space program."

Those investments must also be sustained into the foreseeable future, they argue.

"A one-year increase in technology, commercial, robotic, and university investments will not be sufficient to reverse years of neglect," the authors write. "We must avoid a repeat of the situation between 2005 and 2009 where, despite initial promises, funds had to be transferred from other areas of NASA activity, and especially from investments in research and technology, to the Constellation Program because Constellation had a level of ambition that exceeded its allocated funding."

Among those who signed the letter are former Nobel Prize winners such as Dr. Baruch 'Barry' Blumberg, a former Director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute and a one-time Senior Advisor to the NASA Administrator; Dr. Riccardo Giacconi, a former Director of the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore; Dr. Mario Molina, who previously worked as a research member at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California; and Stanford University Aeronautics & Astronautics Professor Scott Hubbard, also a former Director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA HQ and a member of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB).


On the Net: