Mason Peck. Credit: NASA photo

NASA has selected Mason Peck as its new chief technologist, putting the Cornell University professor in charge of a budget that faces a perennially tough audience in Congress despite White House efforts to make technology development a driver of future human spaceflight programs.

Peck, an associate professor in Cornell’s department of mechanical and aerospace engineering, will be only the second NASA chief technologist in a decade. His immediate predecessor, Robert Braun, quit the agency in October, citing the long commute from his home in Georgia and a desire to return to academia.

Peck’s appointment was announced in a Nov. 8 press release.

Technology development had been a poster child for U.S. President Barack Obama’s effort to reinvent the space agency, with goals such as cheaper and more powerful propulsion systems that could change the economics and reduce the technical challenges of deep-space exploration.

Obama requested $1 billion for NASA’s Space Technology program in 2012, a dramatic increase over the $327 million allocated in 2011, but Congress has balked at that number. The NASA spending bill in the House recommends $375 million for the account; the Senate version of the bill provides $637 million.