Reason For Optimism: Garver Says Aeronautics Budget Is On The Rise
NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver told Dryden employees at an all-hands meeting Aug. 27 that there is reason for optimism, and she wants to know what the barriers are to working on research to develop technologies that can be commercialized and that the U.S. needs to succeed.
In the year of the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 there are and will continue to be a number of opportunities, which so far have included a trip to the Oval Office the second day that she and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden were on the job. She sees communicating the challenges and needs of NASA's centers to the nation's leadership as a key component of her work.
As part of the confirmation hearings for her new post, Garver said she had spoken with approximately a quarter of the senators about their interest in NASA. The good news from those discussions for the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate is increasing interest in renewing research efforts in aeronautics.
The proof that there might be funding to accompany that interest is visible in two efforts that already have paid dividends for NASA aeronautics. An additional $150 million was added for NASA aeronautics in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the 2010 NASA budget includes a new initiative for an aeronautics program, for the first time in a decade, called the Integrated Systems Research Program, she added.
The key project of the new aeronautics program is the Environmentally Responsible Aircraft project, which is an effort aimed at developing technologies to reduce impacts on the environment. An allocation of about $60 million for each of the next five years - about $300 million, including $62.5 million to ramp up in fiscal year 2010 - is approved.
The ARMD has been validating individual technologies such as an embedded propulsion system for noise reduction, laminar flow control to reduce fuel consumption and other technologies for reducing emissions. The technology-development effort as part of fundamental aeronautics research is intended to address research gaps for next-generation research and development projects.
"We want to enable game-changing concepts and technology from advanced foundational research, ultimately, to understand the feasibility of advanced systems. The technologies have contributions from all of NASA's aeronautics centers and the research is reaching a point where they need to be combined and evaluated as a system to see how they fare, or we may be spinning our wheels," said ARMD Associate Administrator Jaiwon Shin, speaking at a June 4 all-hands meeting at Dryden.
Dryden project manager Jerry Budd asked if there might be relief on regulations that inhibit spending some of the new funding and if Garver could communicate the challenges and assist the centers in solutions to allow the funding to be spent where it is needed for aero projects. Garver replied she would work on the issue.
Laguduva Kubendran of the center director's technical management staff asked if a Dryden discretionary fund - which has historically been used for seeding research projects such as the lifting body aircraft - could be re-established for innovative research. Garver said she was in favor of reinstating such a funding mechanism.
The current presidential administration wants to invest in the nation's technology base and is advocating for partnerships and a return to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics model of testing new aircraft and aerospace technologies that could have big payoffs. The green aeronautics initiative is "a serious national challenge" in which NASA centers like Dryden could play key roles.
Regarding partnerships, John Del Frate, director of Dryden's Business Development Mission Directorate, asked if there would be an easing of some of the export control and the international traffic in arms traffic, or ITAR, regulations added since Sept. 11, 2001.
Those policies were challenging prior to Sept. 11, but made work with international partners even more difficult after that date. When he was asked at a European conference on high-altitude platform systems about partnering with other European countries to accelerate the development of such systems, he said he had to explain the difficulty given existing ITAR regulations.
"We are sidelined, and we will be passed," Del Frate said.
Garver said she was aware of the restrictions and work to resolve some of those challenges has started.
Another key push by the Obama administration is a focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics - STEM - education, with a goal of doubling the number of graduates in critical science and technology fields by 2020.
"We [NASA] will have a harder time recruiting in the future if we don't do that," Garver said.
One way NASA is working toward the national goal is by reaching out and talking to young people in NASA programs. Students and recently hired employees are being asked about their experiences and their ideas in reaching their peers and inspiring new generations of Americans to pursue careers in STEM disciplines.
A group of more than a dozen students who are or were in student programs met with Garver following the town hall and had a number of ideas to share. An article in an upcoming Special Delivery will look at some of those ideas.
Garver also toured Dryden projects, including the Global Hawk, Ikhana, ER-2, the X-48B aircraft and the F-16D Automatic Collision Avoidance Technology aircraft.
By Jay Levine