After many years working directly with Congress in one capacity or another, I decided that I needed to see NASA from a new perspective. While I enjoyed my job, I don’t think I am the only person that found themselves perplexed by the FY 2011 budget request and the various modifications thereafter. I guess, I really just wanted to understand better how we got where we did so I could see the big picture.
One thing that WAS clear to me in the FY 2011 budget request was that we weren’t investing in technology development. Ok…NASA was doing some, but the kinds of technology that made baby steps, not giant leaps like the NASA my parents knew. I want to be a part of that excitement so I joined the Office of the Chief Technologist. I am putting great faith that this initiative is the start of something good for me and for NASA. I hope I’m right!
Why should NASA have a centralized technology focus? NASA’s new Space Technology program is a critical to NASA’s future. Numerous external studies and Congress have concluded that NASA’s missions have suffered from an under-investment in new technologies. We need to get back to the cutting edge and while the big programs at NASA try to invest in new technology, other programs often are so mission focused that it often falls off the table when budgets get tight.
That mission driven focus, while understandable, especially with how our budgets go, has left us with dreams bigger than what we can capably accomplish.
Seeking life in the solar system and Earth-like planets around other stars, forecasting major storms and natural disasters, and preparing NEO deflection techniques is not possible with today’s technologies and budget constraints. NASA must change the game such that human exploration into deep space (to an asteroid or Mars) is sustainable and affordable. For example, using today’s technology, the equivalent of 12 ISS units of mass is required in low Earth orbit to initiate a single round trip Mars mission. Similarly, we do not know how to land masses larger than MSL (about the size of a small car) on the Mars surface. We need cutting-edge research, technology, and innovation to advance our Nation’s future.
By investing in Space Technology, we will enable a more vibrant future for all of us on Earth. Space technology has already greatly impacted the communications, biomedical, and transportation industries, improving life for all of us. A NASA focus on Space Technology will also produce technological solutions of benefit in health and wellness, energy, environment and national security.
The greatest risk to our Nation’s future leadership in space, and to our economic prosperity, is the continued under-investment in transforming technologies. Establishing a robust Space technology program at NASA will bridge the technology gap we suffer from today.
Will our our nation have the political invest in this vital technology? As usual, the ball is in the Congressional court right now. While I think they know the future savings is real and tangible, it’s hard to for them to look past the current budget environment. After the election, we will know more, but I am looking forward to seeing what our nation’s space future will hold.