(Washington, DC)  Today, the House Science Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics held its first hearing of the 109th Congress to consider the future of aeronautics at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Congress recognized the value of Federally-sponsored research and development in aeronautics, making it one of NASA’s core missions at the agency’s establishment in 1958.  Over the years, NASA’s aeronautics research has given America the tools to reduce aircraft noise and emissions, use aviation fuel more efficiently, improve aviation safety, security and air traffic management systems and much more.

“It made good sense in 1958 and it makes good sense now to have NASA involved in aeronautical R&D,” stated Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee.  “NASA’s R&D in aeronautics and aviation benefits not only our international competitiveness, but also the quality of life of our citizens.”

Despite the clear value of such research, NASA’s aeronautics program has steadily lost ground in the agency budget.  Over the last decade, funding for the program has declined by more than half.  Under the Administration’s FY2006 budget, that decline will continue unabated for five more years.  The cuts to aeronautics research appear to reflect the priority given to the Administration’s space exploration initiative in the overall NASA budget.

“NASA’s aeronautics program has now reached a crisis point,” added Rep. Udall.  “It’s been difficult to get definitive answers concerning NASA’s intentions for the workforce at the aeronautics research Centers and it is clear that NASA management envisions significant numbers of current employees leaving the aeronautics program.”

In testimony submitted to the Subcommittee, the International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers said that the “proposed cutbacks jeopardize facilities, scientists, engineers and technicians that should be available, for example, to test vehicle design and human integration for a Mars mission Entry, Descent and Landing, and to design airborne ‘flyers’ for Mars surveying, to name just two.”

Rep. Dennis Kucinich testified before the Subcommittee and added, “The recent proposed cuts could eliminate 700 NASA jobs from Glenn and 1100 NASA jobs from Langley, the two cornerstones of aeronautics research….  It is important to understand that threats to job stability posed by funding losses will encourage the nation’s most talented scientists and engineers to look elsewhere for work.”

“The bleak outlook for aeronautics at NASA is not an inevitability,” concluded Rep. Udall.  “It is the result of policy decisions and prioritizations that Congress may or may not choose to endorse.  Today’s hearing will help this Subcommittee get the information we need to make informed decisions on how best to proceed.”