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Tue, Jun 20, 2006

Scientists Complain NASA Is Neglecting Air For Space

Aeronautics Research Suffers During Budget Crisis

Is NASA's quest for an increased presence in space neglecting the very foundation those journeys will be built upon? Some scientists say yes... that stellar myopia is causing NASA to let go of aeronautics research that has allowed the United States to maintain a worldwide lead in aviation for years.

The reason? Budgetary concerns, of course... and with only so much funding to go around, NASA's higher-profile projects are getting the bulk of the funds.

"[The aeronautics] budget is just going to suffer horrendously," said Alex Roland, a professor of technology history at Duke University. "I don't know if it will disappear... [but] I wouldn't want to depend on NASA anytime soon for aeronautics research."

While you may not see a NASA logo on your airplane, or the next commercial airliner you fly on... items such as deicing technology and composite fan blades have their roots in NASA research.

Another NASA-supported project -- the Small Aircraft Transport System, or SATS -- has been called nothing less than the future of private aviation... and some fear without NASA lending a hand, both general and commercial aviation will suffer.

"It's certainly a concern because who's going to pick up the gap," said Christina Frederick-Recascino, associate provost at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which has partnered with NASA on aeronautics research, and counts the agency as one of its top three funders.

USA Today reports several NASA labs are already feeling the pinch.

Personnel at Ohio's Glenn Research Center, Langley Research Center in Virginia, and California's Ames and Dryden Flight research centers were reportedly stung by NASA Administrator Michael Griffin's comments earlier this month, that the fate of aeronautics is akin to that of slide rule makers in the United States.

"The last slide rule maker went out of business I think in 1975," Griffin said June 5, when declaring what roles the agency's labs would play in developing the next-generation Crew Exploration Vehicle. "We simply are not doing all of the things that all of our centers once did."

As Aero-News reported, each of those labs received projects associated with the CEV. However, Griffin added the aeronautics heritage of those facilities "just doesn't fit" with NASA's new goals... and if those labs want to see continued funding, they'd better adapt... and quickly.

Lisa Porter, NASA's associate administrator for aeronautics, maintains the agency is not giving up on aircraft... but is instead focusing more on long-term research. With a sharper focus on cutting edge priorities, Porter asserts, NASA's future goals will focus on areas such as ATC advancements and hypersonic flight.

Still, for scientists working in the field, morale has suffered... with many wondering if NASA has forgotten that it's the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

FMI: www.nasa.gov

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