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AN APPROACHING CRISIS IN NASA-UNIVERSITY RELATIONS
George B. Field
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
23 January 1978
Whatever the scientific course of our nation's space-science program, we can be sure that the management and funding patterns of that program will be of ever-increasing concern to Congress, NASA, and the scientific community. In particular, Congress has the duty to make certain that funds granted to NASA for space science are expended in the most scientifically productive way. Because most of our top scientific talent is concentrated in our universities, and because university research groups have always been the source of most of the best space-science research, it is therefore essential that Federal funds received by NASA continue to sustain and nurture university research. The Congress should therefore be aware that university groups are finding it harder and harder to compete for NASA space-science contracts. The effect on university research threatens to become disastrous. are approaching a crisis in NASA-university relations, in spite of the best efforts of NASA management.
The traditional relationship of NASA to the universities has been through the competitive award of contracts and grants to individual Principal Investigators (PI's) at universities. This pattern of university research funding through NASA channels has admirably stood the test of time and will remain in the future the best way to fund such research. However, in an era of inflationweakened support, universities are finding it increasingly difficult to compete for such funding with other larger organizations such as
NASA centers. There are three problems:
(1) Typical university space-science centers are small. As
a result, they do not have the depth of personnel and financial resources commanded by NASA centers which can be redirected to solve problems likely to arise in all hardware/development programs. (2) Unlike NASA centers and industrial firms, universities are not allowed to recover the costs of preparing proposals and bids for NASA contracts. As a result, the substantial costs of such efforts have to be borne out of very limited internal funds. (3) At universities, charges for laboratory test equipment, space rental, and support personnel appear as a direct charge to the project. This inflates the cost of a project in comparison with the situation at a NASA center, where these items are supplied by the Government under a separate budget line covering the NASA centers. As a result, the universities operate at a competitive
For these reasons, NASA management is faced with an increasingly difficult choice in the future funding of space-science missions: how to maintain and expand support to the university community, which has produced most of the best space-science ideas in the past, when NASA centers have greater depth of resources, can prepare more attractive proposals, and appear to be less expensive.
I can offer no easy solution to this problem. However, I can suggest some possible remedies for the consideration of this
(1) Affirm again that one of NASA's goals in pursuit of its charter is "the expansion of human knowledge of phenomena in the
atmosphere and space," and therefore that NASA should reaffirm its commitment to foster space research and education about space at leading universities.
(2) Strongly encourage NASA to implement methods for funding proposal preparation at universities.
(3) Strongly encourage NASA to use realistic costing methods, based on the total cost of a project to the Government, in comparing the costs of doing projects at centers or at universities. This would place the universities in a fair competitive position for NASA space-science contracts.
The development of a strong national space policy with clearly defined goals is an absolute necessity if we are to preserve our hard won national superiority in this field, provide a focus for our scientific and technological expertise, and further develop space technology for the good of mankind. I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this hearing.
One of the most important problems facing our nation today is the management of our energy resources to meet our immediate needs and the development of viable alternate energy sources for the future.
A combination of fuel conservation and the stretchout of conventional power technologies (oil, gas, coal and nuclear fission) offer promise for near term solutions. The approach for meeting long term energy needs can best be established by vigorous development of fission breeder reactors, nuclear fusion reactors and solar power technology.
Major economic, technical and environmental challenges must be overcome to make any of these systems a practical reality. It seems appropriate to plan and undertake carefully designed demonstrations of critical assumptions.
The Honorable Olin E. Teague:
I believe that it is important to carry each of these options forward in a concurrent manner so that their relative merits and development timetables can be more clearly understood. Appropriate commitment to full scale development of the best system or systems can be made with greater confidence using this method of simultaneous support for both hard and soft energy technologies.
Grumman Aerospace Corporation has been studying the Solar Power Satellite system for the past several years. Our early study results, which we reported to you and your Committee in 1972, have been validated in our continued efforts. Such a system is technically possible and potentially economically viable although experimental data are urgently needed to establish confidence in any cost appraisal. Recent studies by ERDA, NASA and other aerospace companies have reinforced our conclusions. We believe that the next step in the development of the Solar Power Satellite is to demonstrate that each technical and economic assumption in these studies is valid.
I have enclosed a plan which describes a Power Technology Module which we recommend as the next step in the long range plan to make space solar power a practical reality. The Power Technology Module would convert the sun's energy into electrical power by means of solar arrays of advanced design, condition and store this power in batteries, and then use the power to perform SPS technology experiments. The PTM system development can be carried out within realistic budget considerations and could be operational by 1984.
During construction and assembly of the Power Technology Module, valuable lessons could be learned which could have direct application to the later development of a long term permanent Solar Power Satellite. At the conclusion of the SPS experimental work, the Power Technology Module could also serve usefully by furnishing
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