GREENBELT, Md. — NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, speaking here March 20 at the Robert H. Goddard Memorial Symposium, said that singling out some conferences by name in strict new agency travel guidelines was a necessary part of a plan the agency hopes will save $10 million in 2013.

Bolden released the new travel guidelines March 13, just a week before the start of the Goddard symposium, and less than a month before the start of the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo. That left little time, the NASA boss said, to make the applicability of the new rules to these conferences clear by any means other than explicitly banning agency-funded participation.

“Why did we single out this conference and this symposium? Because we kept getting calls from people saying, ‘Can I go?’” Bolden said. “Finally, I said, ‘Look, I’m not going to [the National Space Symposium]. I’m going to go to the Goddard symposium because it’s in town, doesn’t cost the government a dime. I suggest you follow my example.’

“People like examples,” Bolden added.

NASA thinks it can save at least $10 million in 2013 by sharply curtailing agency participation in conferences, spokesman Allard Beutel said in an email, citing figures from Elizabeth Robinson, NASA’s chief financial officer.

The agency spent about $79 million on travel in 2012, when restrictions less stringent than those Bolden handed down March 13 were already in effect, Beutel said. The earlier travel restrictions brought the agency’s 2012 travel bill down about $21 million, compared with 2011 expenditures.

Upcoming events in which official NASA participation has been indefinitely suspended is:

  • The European Geosciences Union’s General Assembly 2013, to be held April 7-12 in Vienna.
  • The National Space Foundation’s National Space Symposium, to be held April 8-12 in Colorado Springs.
  • The European Space Agency’s Sixth European Conference on Space Debris, to be held April 22-25 in Darmstadt, Germany.
  • The 6th International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety Conference, to be held May 21-23 in Montreal.
  • The Rotary International Conference to be held June 23-26 in Lisbon, Portugal.

The new travel directive also forbade the agency to pay to participate in several events the week of March 18. Besides the Goddard symposium, these included the International Astronautical Federation Spring Meeting in Paris and the National Space Club’s Goddard Memorial Dinner, which is held here every year on the Friday evening following the conclusion of the Goddard symposium. SpaceNews is a media sponsor for the Goddard conference and the National Space Symposium.

“It’s irrational to some of you, what we did,” Bolden said about the new NASA travel rules. But “there is a reason,” he said.

Dan Leone is the NASA reporter for SpaceNews, where he also covers other civilian-run U.S. government space programs and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He joined SpaceNews in 2011.Dan earned a bachelor's degree in public communications...