Braun Makes Plea for Space Tech Investment as He Departs NASA

Braun Makes Plea for Space Tech Investment as He Departs NASA

Bobby Braun, who is returning to academia after serving as NASA Chief Technologist for the past two years, made a plea for investing in space technology in an article in The Hill newspaper today.

Braun argues that “the pioneering spirit embodied by [NASA] is endangered as a result of chronic underinvestment in basic and applied research.” Investing in aerospace technology also creates high-tech jobs and provides opportunities to science and engineering students to invent technologies “that will form the foundation for humanity’s next great leap across the solar system,” he says.

Funding at a level around 5 percent of NASA’s budget should be allocated to federal spending on space technology in his view, though he does not specify that NASA itself should receive all of that. Other federal agencies, notably the Department of Defense, also invest in space technology. However, his closing comments are directed specifically at what NASA should be doing: “This is the task for which this agency was built. This is the task this agency can complete. America expects no less.”

NASA’s Office of Chief Technologist focuses on maturing technologies that are in their earliest phases of development — Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) 1-6. These technologies often do not have a champion since their applications may not be as readily evident as those at higher TRL levels. Technology funding at NASA has been cut sharply by Congress as it tries to find ways to cut federal spending. The FY2012 budget request for Braun’s office is $1.024 billion. In cutting that to $638 million in the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill, the Senate Appropriations Committee said that it “regrets not being able to fund this promising program more robustly.” The House Appropriations Committee cut it even more, to $375 million. The House and Senate have not completed action on the CJS bill yet.

Publishing in a newspaper that caters to Capitol Hill politicos rather than in one of the more traditional aerospace media outlets is one way to more directly communicate with the people who will decide the fate of that legislation.

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