NASA pulls rug out from student researchers

NASA 'restructures' aeronautics research program: Funds end Sept. 30. Cuts are unprecedented, professor says.

Students who are studying astrophysics shouldn't count on getting any research grants from National Aeronautics and Space Administration as the Bush administration has gutted the program, reports Inside Higher Ed

“NASA’s Aeronautics Program has been restructured ... any funds provided on your grant/agreement for performance beyond September 30, 2006 are to be deobligated immediately,” read an email sent out by NASA to research universities.

After costs were assessed for Hurricane Katrina and the Columbia shuttle disaster and President Bush set manned spaceflight as a top priority, NASA shifted money away from its academic research science programs.

“I would certainly not advise anyone coming out of grad school to take a job in someone’s lab on a NASA project,” said Mike Pivovaroff, a 34-year-old physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Fiona Harrison, professor of physics and astronomy at Caltech, and principle investigator for NuSTAR, one of the mothballed projects, has worked on dozens of NASA projects over about 15 years, said that, as far as she knew, NASA “never before cancelled a competitive, peer-reviewed mission.”

Until recently, NASA, even in lean financial times, would provide bridge funding to keep projects going.

“We had built up a fairly large team” that included students and post-docs, Harrison said, “and I hadn’t renewed other grants because I thought my lab would be completely preoccupied with this mission.”

Asked if Harrison thought some of the younger scientists from the team might end up out of experimental astrophysics altogether, she responded simply, “Oh yeah. I’m advising the post-docs to look at industry and elsewhere.”

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