Eugene Tattini, deputy director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), says budget pressures are forcing the space agency into a difficult balancing act between supporting existing missions and spacecraft and investing in new technology and innovation for future exploration, reports.

“Our spacecraft are lasting longer; our spacecraft are doing very noble science,” Tattini said in a keynote speech May 8 at the Spacecraft Technology Expo in Los Angeles. “But they’re very expensive to operate, so you can’t have the money both to operate systems for much longer than their expected operating life and have the money to invent the next generation of spacecraft and scientific instruments as you go forward.”

JPL’s role is evolving as the NASA budget is squeezed, said Tattini, who is responsible for managing the center’s science and exploration programs. “As the budgets get short, the complexion of JPL changes from a research and development organization to an organization that does spacecraft operations and science,” he said. “And you have to watch that balance as you go back and forth, because we want to try to achieve a proper balance as we go and do these things.”