Committee on Science, Democratic Caucus
About Us Subcommittees Our Legislation Our Investigations Tracking R and D Funding Press Room Hearings and Publications For Members and Citizens Comment Online

printer friendly
Committee on Science, Democratic Caucus

Hearing :: 5/1/2008 :: NASA’s Aeronautics R&D Program: Status and Issues

Opening Statement By Chairman Mark Udall

Good morning.  I’d like to welcome our witnesses to today’s hearing and thank you for your participation.

Today, the Subcommittee continues our oversight of NASA’s major programs by focusing on Aeronautics.

It is important that we do so, because in many ways NASA’s aeronautics program is one important answer to the question of what it is that makes NASA relevant to the nation’s needs.

At the same time, it has become painfully clear that NASA’s aeronautics program has been significantly shortchanged in recent years when it comes to getting the resources required to address those national needs.

That’s unacceptable as far as I am concerned.  NASA has many worthwhile programs underway—activities that certainly deserve our support.

Yet I am hard-pressed to think of any program at NASA, with the possible exception of NASA’s climate research initiatives, that is more relevant to our society’s needs than NASA’s aeronautics program.

Aviation knits our country together, maintains our economic vitality, improves the quality of our lives, and helps enhance our national security.

Moreover, aviation is a sector that makes a significant positive contribution to our balance of trade—and promotes America’s competitiveness in the global economy.

Yet the explosive growth of aviation over the last several decades has also brought its own set of challenges.

These include dealing with the increasing congestion of the nation’s airspace system, the need to maintain safety in the face of increasing travel demand, and the need to mitigate the negative impacts of aviation on the environment--whether noise, increasing energy consumption, or harmful emissions.

And with respect to emissions, it is clear that an emerging focus of concern is greenhouse gas emissions that can contribute to climate change, an area that this Committee has been trying to call attention to over the past year.

It is clear that meeting all of those challenges is going to require a national commitment to cutting-edge research into new technologies and operational procedures.

We must focus on research that will ensure that the nation’s air traffic management system will be able to meet anticipated demand while preserving safety and making the whole experience a lot more pleasant than it is now for the average traveler.

We also need to focus on developing technologies that can make aircraft much more energy efficient and produce lower levels of harmful emissions.

In addition, NASA needs to continue to pursue research that will open up new flight regimes for our utilization, for example, research that will enable such things as civil rotorcraft and supersonic aircraft that are environmentally friendly, safe, and that can operate without adverse impacts on our communities.

And we need to focus on research that will ensure that we maintain the high level of safety that we have enjoyed in our aviation sector.

Indeed, the National Academies completed a Decadal Survey of Civil Aeronautics several years ago that identified some 51 key technical challenges around which NASA—in close collaboration with industry and academia—could structure a compelling and productive aeronautics R&D agenda for the next decade.

That’s the good news.

However, as a number of the witnesses at today’s hearing will testify, and as past witnesses have also testified—the decline in NASA’s aeronautics funding is making it increasingly difficult to maintain an aeronautics research program that will be capable of stepping up to the challenges the nation’s aviation sector will be facing in the coming decades.

In short, the future relevance of NASA’s aeronautics program is at risk—just when the need for NASA’s research contributions is greatest.

In part that is because carrying research to a level of maturity that allows the results to be transitioned to the users—whether private or public sector—requires a greater level of investment than the current Administration has been willing to make.

That needs to change.

If promising technologies and operational concepts aren’t matured to the point that they can be transitioned to the users for further development or implementation, the nation will never receive the full benefit of the investment that it has made in that research.

That’s the challenge we face.

Aeronautics needs to be a priority at NASA.  It is as simple as that.

I think the NASA Authorization Act of 2005 got it right when it reaffirmed that “Aeronautics research remains a core mission of NASA.”

Our witnesses today will tell us about the ways that NASA research can contribute to a bright and exciting future for American aviation.

We need to ensure that NASA maintains its commitment to carrying out that research.



Search the Web site

Contact Us

Comment Online
Get Email Updates

View Web Sitemap

2321 Rayburn Building Washington, D.C. 20515 | Phone: (202) 225-6375 Fax: (202) 225-3895 | Contact Us Online