(July 20, 2011) For the past 54 years, investments in America’s space program have yielded tremendous benefits* for American taxpayers, but looming cutbacks to science and technology (S&T) investments –especially in the space program – seriously threaten future benefits.
Today’s economic situation assuredly will result in cutbacks to government funded activities, but investments in S&T must be protected because they are the seed corn for future economic growth and American global leadership.
The first actions on the FY2012 budget are now being taken by the House of Representatives and they do not bode well for the S&T investments in space activities. Department of Defense space programs would be cut by at least $900 million; NASA by $1.9 billion; and NOAA’s satellite activities by more than $300 million. The proposal to transfer the Landsat program from NASA to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) would be denied and the Department of Energy could not fund its share to restart plutonium-238 production for future probes to explore the solar system.
At risk are not only the programs themselves – from new generations of GPS navigation satellites and civil and military weather satellites to new astrophysics, planetary exploration and earth science missions to human exploration – but the high tech and scientific jobs that go with them. Also imperiled by cuts in both the defense and NASA budgets are investments in space technology that could lead to more cost effective solutions to meeting the country’s goals and requirements in space and the myriad areas that space technology impacts directly and indirectly. On a bipartisan basis, the White House and Congress have strongly supported the need for increased STEM education, but if federal funding for S&T is cut substantially, relevant jobs will be lacking to attract the next generation into pursuing these critical skills.
The number one long-term issue facing our country’s leaders is economic growth, including job creation, GDP growth and increasing the balance of trade. Without a growing economy that creates new high wage jobs, our future is grim. For the private sector to help steward this growth, it needs sustainable, reliable federal budgets and investments by the government in technology innovation across the board, including aerospace.
We applaud the House Appropriations Committee for the pace at which it is moving forward with the appropriations bills to fund the fiscal year that begins on October 1. We understand the need to reduce the deficit. But we must not jeopardize our future by dramatic cuts to the central core of our nation’s economic development – investments in science and technology, particularly those associated with the space program.
“The nation’s economic future depends on U.S. leadership in high-tech investments” said AAS Executive Director Jim Kirkpatrick. “What this country needs is sustained investment in technological innovation – especially in aerospace – that will assist in creating new products and markets and therefore new revenue and job growth.”
* The benefits of investing in space activities have been expounded upon many times, including in the annual Space Report from the Space Foundation; NASA’s annual Spinoff reports; an article by House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Ralph Hall in the July 14, 2009 issue of The Hill newspaper; and at a May 18, 2011 hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. A case study of the impact of a specific NASA technology development — software for structural analysis that has become the world’s standard – is available online.