A report issued today by the National Research Council and commissioned by NASA said that NASA's research labs are so underfunded, the agency may not be able to carry out its work.
The committee looked at six NASA centers -- Ames Research Center, Glenn Research Center, Goddard Space Flight Center, the Jet Propulsion Lab, Langley Research Center and Marshall Space Flight Center -- and found inadequate equipment, inadequate and unstable funding and an over-reliance on contractors.
Between fiscal years 2005 and 2009, funding for NASA has declined by 48%. Over 80% of NASA's facilities are more than 40 years old and are considered sub-par.
Research has been deferred, the report said, while "researchers are expending inordinate amounts of time writing proposals seeking funding to maintain their laboratory capabilities." Also, "efforts are diverted as researchers seek funding from outside NASA for work that may not be completely consistent with NASA's goals."
From the report:
"The innovation and technologies required to advance aeronautics, explore the outer planets, search for intelligent life, and understand the beginnings of the universe have been severely restricted by a short-term perspective and funding. The changes in the management of fundamental research represent a structural impediment to resolving this problem. Despite all these challenges, the NASA researchers encountered by the committee remain dedicated to their work and focused on NASA’s future."
NASA asked for the report as President Obama tries to change the agency's direction by building public-private partnerships to send astronauts into space. Obama has asked for an additional $6 billion for NASA's budget, and if NASA gets the money, you can bet there will be lots of discussion over how it should be spent.
The Senate Commerce Committee, meanwhile, is holding a hearing today on the future of human space flight.
Follow the hearing here. Get the report on NASA here or below.