Spurring Economic Growth and Competitiveness Through NASA Derived Technologies

(Washington, DC) — On July 12 the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics held a hearing entitled, “Spurring Economic Growth and Competitiveness through NASA Derived Technologies.” The purpose of the hearing was to highlight the direct economic and societal benefits that investment in NASA has generated and to examine how best to ensure that continued investments will maintain a pipeline for future economic growth. Testifying before the Subcommittee were Dr. Mason Peck, Chief Technologist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); Mr. George Beck, Chief Clinical and Technology Officer at Impact Instrumentation, Inc.; Mr. Brian Russell, Chief Executive Officer of Zephyr Technology; Mr. John Vilja, Vice President for Strategy, Innovation and Growth at Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne; and Dr. Richard Aubrecht, Vice President at Moog Inc.

The technical challenges of NASA’s space exploration, space science, and aeronautics missions have necessitated the development of unique skills and capabilities and required significant technological advances. These advances have contributed directly and indirectly to America’s economic strength, capacity for innovation, and global competitiveness by permeating our everyday lives in ways that are not readily apparent to all Americans.

“This hearing serves as an opportunity to remind the public on the connection between the federal government’s investments in space and the benefits to society,” said Ranking Member Jerry F. Costello (D-IL) in his prepared statement. “These contributions developed important products, such as satellite radio, medical diagnostics and aeronautical advances that have improved the safety, and fuel-efficiency performance of both commercial and military aircraft. In carrying out its missions and developing these technologies, NASA also has inspired young people to enter educational and career paths in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

In addition, NASA investments have helped fuel the innovation economy by expanding the knowledge base of scientists and engineers who are building the technologies of the future. “Knowledge provided by weather and navigational spacecraft, efficiency improvements in both ground and air transportation, super computers, solar- and wind-generated energy, the cameras found in many of today’s cell phones, improved biomedical applications including advanced medical imaging and even more nutritious infant formula, as well as the protective gear that keeps our military, firefighters and police safe, have all benefitted from our nation’s investments in aerospace technology,” stated Dr. Peck.

Industry also benefits from continued investments in NASA, applying the knowledge used to create new technologies and the derivative technologies themselves to create new commercial opportunities. “NASA has played a very significant role in the development of leading edge technologies,” said Dr. Aubrecht. “These core technologies and knowledge have enabled much economic growth in the USA, not only in aerospace industries but in many other sectors of the economy who benefit from the new technologies. The model of NASA investing in really hard problems and challenging American companies has enabled the development of many core, pre-competitive technologies. This model is an example of where a Federal investment in technology development has an enormous impact on the overall economy.”

Focusing on how NASA could expand partnerships, such as that between the agency and General Motors, which resulted in such innovative technologies as the robotic glove, Rep. Clarke (D-MI) urged NASA to seek opportunities to partner with small businesses, academic institutions, and economic development organizations. Congressman Clarke also questioned witnesses on how start-up companies might engage with NASA. “There are many start-up companies in Detroit, Michigan that are eager to partner with NASA to create jobs,” stated Congressman Clarke. “I look forward to working with NASA to facilitate that collaboration and spur economic growth in metro Detroit.”

Mankins on NASA Technolgy Development

To boldly go: the urgent need for a revitalized investment in space technology by John C. Mankins


At the beginning of the space age, the United States realized that preeminence in space exploration and development could only be achieved through a commitment to robust investments in advanced space research and technology. Starting with the Kennedy Administration, and continuing until just the past four years, the US civil space program has been characterized not only by remarkable achievements in space (e.g., Surveyor, Mercury, Pioneer, Gemini, Apollo, and other programs), but also by ambitious investments in space technology. For example, in the mid-1960s, NASA’s investment in advanced space research and technology was approximately $1 billion per year (in current year dollars), and was directed toward truly ambitious technical objectives such as nuclear propulsion, high-energy cryogenic engines, thermal protection for reusable launch vehicles, electric propulsion, solar energy, automation and robotics, and more. For its day, NASA’s advanced space research and technology program was truly transformational—pressing the frontiers in technology and enabling the space missions of the 1970s and 1980s to achieve goals that were unimaginable for any other nation in the world.

That foundation of research and technology investments resulted not only in new “widgets” to put on the shelf, but also in a variety of important new space systems concepts, companies, and individual subject matter experts—the human foundations of excellence in the aerospace industry of the 1970s, 1980s, and beyond. This “orchard of innovation” yielded missions such as the Viking landers and orbiters at Mars (1976) and the Voyager missions to the outer planets; systems such as the Space Shuttle (1981–present); and, international initiatives such as the International Space Station (1982–present). At the same time, these technological foundations (systems, technologies, facilities, and skilled people) benefited a wide range of critical national security space missions.

Unfortunately, the US investment in advanced research and technology for space exploration and development has been reduced to historically low levels, and concurrently has been focused more narrowly than ever before on immediate system designs and development projects. In many respects, the current budget is little more than an “advanced development” program with minimal opportunity for innovation and essentially no possibility that an invention arising from civil space research and technology programs could influence system design decisions, inform budget estimates or inspire new, more ambitious space program goals.

Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

Ada Byron Love Lace, born “Ada Byron, the only legitimate child of Lord Byron, was born in December of 1815, and one month later her mother in a bitter and celebrated separation, left the “mad and bad” Byron and took Ada with her.”- Source: www.sonoma.edu

Ada Lovelace was one of the world’s first computer programmers, and one of the first people to see computers as more than just a machine for doing sums. She wrote programmes for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, a general-purpose computing machine, despite the fact that it was never built. She also wrote the very first description of a computer and of software.

Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology. Women’s contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognised. We want you to tell the world about these unsung heroines. Whatever she does, whether she is a sysadmin or a tech entrepreneur, a programmer or a designer, developing software or hardware, a tech journalist or a tech consultant, we want to celebrate her achievements.

Happy Ada Love Lace Day. To Celebrate I am taking three girls to the Baltimore Science Center. This is by chance rather than planning but it is very fitting.

In the field of Space Exploration there are many women to celebrate.

Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova – First woman in space

Sally Kristen Ride – First American woman in space.

Peggy Annette Whitson – First Female Space Station Commander

Shannon Matilda Wells Lucid – First American woman to make a long-duration space station mission.

Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Blair Salton Clark, Sharon Christa Corrigan McAuliffe, Judith Arlene Resnik who gave their lives on the Space Shuttle.

Or those who kept their feet on the ground like-

Donna Shirley – Managed Mars Exploration at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Jill Cornell Tarter – Director of the Center for SETI Research.

Who would you like to acknowlegde on Ada Lovelace Day?