In testimony delivered during a recent Capitol Hill hearing organized by the Aerospace States Association (ASA), Dr. Thomas H. Zurbuchen, Professor of Space Science and Aerospace Engineering at the University of Michigan and Vice Chair of the Universities Space Research Association’s (USRA) 102 member Council of Institutions, urged action on two pressing issues affecting space-related research at US universities and our nation’s ability to remain a leader in space. In his remarks, Dr. Zurbuchen drew attention to the dramatic decline in “hands on” research opportunities for graduate students and also on the need to better balance the impact of ITAR restrictions on US space-related research with national security needs.

Dr. Zurbuchen pointed out that the number of small missions and experimental launches — missions that had provided critical experience for generations of US researchers — had declined by over 80% since the late 1970s and that this decline is negatively impacting the nation’s technical workforce. Quoting the findings of a 2004 commission on US Space Exploration Policy, Dr. Zurbuchen read, “At present, there are insufficient methods for students to acquire hands-on experience in the scientific and technical disciplines necessary for space commerce and exploration.” Dr. Zurbuchen indicated that USRA’s 102 member university council unanimously adopted, in 2008, a resolution urging that at least 1% of NASA’s total budget be devoted to these types of missions.

Dr. Zurbuchen also spoke on the adverse impact of export control regulations on US space-related scientific research. The current application of these regulations has resulted in unintended consequences that have had a chilling affect on the conduct of space-related research in the US university community, said Dr. Zurbuchen. He used his own experience to illustrate the difficulties that “ITAR” restrictions pose to researchers. Referring to a space mission to the planet Mercury on which he had worked in 1999 designing a sensor, Dr. Zurbuchen told of the bizarre circumstance in which he was not allowed to see technical information that he himself generated, because he was not at the time a US citizen or permanent resident. In order to alleviate the difficulties created by the current export control structure, Dr Zurbuchen urged adoption of measures recommended by USRA: 1) extend the ITAR basic research exclusion to industry and nonprofits, 2) conduct a top-to-bottom review of the current US Munitions List and Commerce Control List, and 3) extend to agencies, such as NASA, an ITAR exemption for international programs, similar to that accorded to the Department of Defense for foreign military sales.

“The product of these measures,” stated Dr. Zurbuchen, “will be regulations that restore the original intent of export control legislation and balance the vital needs of US national security with the crucial role of university research.”

For a complete copy of Dr. Zurbuchen’s testimony please go to:

About USRA

The Universities Space Research Association, established in 1969 by the National Academy of Sciences, is a private, nonprofit consortium of 102 universities offering advanced degrees in space- and aeronautics-related disciplines. USRA’s mission is to conduct leading-edge research, develop innovative technologies, promote education and policy across the breadth of space science, and operate premier science and technology facilities by involving universities, private industry and government.