Many of NASA's research labs are old, and budget cuts have seriously jeopardized scientific research at the space agency, according to a National Research Council report released on Tuesday.
Bureaucratic changes mean that staff running the labs have to spend an inordinate amount of time asking for money while their facilities disintegrate, a panel of experts appointed by the council said.
"The fundamental research community at NASA has been severely impacted by the budget reductions that are responsible for this decrease in laboratory capabilities, and as a result, NASA's ability to support even NASA's future goals is in serious jeopardy," they conclude in the report.
The report does not say NASA should spend any particular amount of money to fix the problems but recommends that the agency shift its emphasis to upgrading the facilities.
The report lands as President Barack Obama tries to sell a new vision of space exploration that includes public-private partnerships to replace the government-dominated model that sent astronauts to the Moon 40 years ago.
Obama has asked for a $6 billion increase in NASA's budget to help ramp up exploration of the solar system and increase Earth-based climate change studies.
NASA commissioned the National Research Council, one of the independent National Academies of Sciences that advises the federal government on medical and scientific policy, to look at its science labs before Obama's changes were in place.
The panel found that NASA has systematically neglected research laboratories at six NASA centers -- the Ames Research Center and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, the Glenn Research Center in Ohio, Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, Langley Research Center in Virginia, and Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.
"These research capabilities have taken years to develop and depend on highly competent and experienced personnel and infrastructure," said Joseph Reagan, a retired vice president at Lockheed Martin Corp., who helped chair the panel.
"Without adequate resources, laboratories can deteriorate very quickly and will not be easily reconstituted."
For instance, the report found the amount NASA needs to spend for maintenance has grown from $1.77 billion in 2004 to $2.46 billion in 2009.
"A reduction in funding of 48 percent for the aeronautics programs over ... 2005-2009 has significantly challenged NASA's ability to achieve its mission to advance U.S. technological leadership in aeronautics in partnership with industry, academia, and other government agencies that conduct aeronautics-related research and to keep U.S. aeronautics in the lead internationally," the report reads.
"Approximately 20 percent of all NASA facilities are dedicated to research and development: on average, they are not state of the art: they are merely adequate to meet current needs," it adds.
"Over 80 percent of NASA facilities are more than 40 years old and need significant maintenance and upgrades to preserve the safety and continuity of operations for critical missions."
The panelists found a pattern of researchers "expending inordinate amounts of time writing proposals seeking funding to maintain their laboratory capabilities" and then looking for money elsewhere.
ReutersLast Mod: 11 Mayıs 2010, 23:20