Op-ed | Budget proposal fails to recognize NASA’s growing importance to nation
NASA named the “newest class of American heroes,” as U.S. Vice President Mike Pence remarked during a June 12 ceremony in Houston to introduce 12 new astronauts to the program as NASA looks to a new era of space exploration. In his remarks, the vice president stressed the importance of NASA’s work to inspire young people and demonstrate American leadership to the world and pledged that “NASA will have the resources and support needed to continue to make history, to push the boundaries of human knowledge, and advance American leadership to the boundless frontier of space.”
We applaud Vice President Pence’s support for a great NASA, and industry stands ready to work to assure that NASA can meet this bold vision for American space leadership.
Unfortunately, the administration’s fiscal year 2018 budget request seeks to cut NASA’s FY 2017 budget by more than $560 million dollars and then hold spending flat through 2022, further eroding NASA’s buying power from levels that are already below those of the 1990s. This budget fails to address NASA’s growing — not shrinking — importance to our nation.
The American people expect NASA to do great new things: send humans to deep space, expand the frontiers of science, improve our understanding of the Earth through innovative observations, and advance the state of aeronautics — all with less than 0.4 percent of the federal budget. Funding for NASA is an investment in the future, one that creates good-paying jobs, promotes U.S. leadership in the global economy and encourages our best and brightest to pursue technical careers. After years of falling purchasing power, NASA’s budget must be steadily grown, not cut, to enable the agency to do more great things for our nation.
Even as NASA’s budget continues to be at a historically low portion of the federal budget, much of NASA’s physical infrastructure – built to support the 1960’s Apollo moon landing program –is over 50 years old. Many of NASA’s buildings, research facilities, and deep space communications network need substantial modernization or replacement to support Mars and other deep space robotic missions leading to a human mission to Mars in the 2030s.
Rep. Brian Babin of Texas, the chairman of the House Science space subcommittee, was right when he noted this month that NASA is at “the threshold of one of the greatest inflection points in the history of space exploration.” Some highlights of NASA activities explain why.
• At the Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana, engineers are building hardware for the Space Launch System, which will be the world’s most-powerful rocket. They are also welding the primary structure of the Orion crew module, which will take humans farther into space then they have ever gone before.
• NASA’s commercial crew and cargo programs are enabling a transition of proven, government-led capabilities to the private sector, expanding American leadership in space. These new capabilities and competition may soon enable exciting new markets, from mega-constellations to in-space manufacturing and space tourism.
• Compelling new technologies to be developed by NASA will measure unique features of the composition of Earth’s atmosphere and oceans, forming a more-complete picture of our planet than ever before.
• NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate has proposed a bold, 10-year plan that promises to transform modern aviation with a demonstrator for low-boom commercial supersonic flight and improved subsonic aircraft efficiency.
• Next year will see the launch of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. This engineering marvel — building on the Hubble Space Telescope’s revolutionary discoveries — will enable us to observe the formation of the universe more than 13.5 billion years ago and image stars and planetary systems with unprecedented sensitivity.
The White House’s NASA budget proposal is being made in the context of the continuing downward pressure that the Budget Control Act of 2011 is having on NASA investments key to our nation’s future growth and security. This is why the Aerospace Industries Association believes the Budget Control Act should either be repealed or substantially modified.
NASA’s work is a testament to American ingenuity and a world-recognized symbol of American leadership and soft power. The agency actively advances the state of the art and lays the foundation for American industry to produce space and aviation products without equal.
A great nation needs an even greater NASA. We hope Congress will support efforts to assure NASA is properly resourced to reflect its bold vision for our future.
Frank Slazer is responsible for advancing the Aerospace Industry Associations’s advocacy on all civil and defense space program issues. Prior to joining AIA in 2011, Slazer worked for over 30 years in engineering and business development positions on a wide range of civil and military space programs for a number of major aerospace companies. His involvement with AIA’s Space Council goes back to 1992, which he chaired in 2001 and 2002.