Stabilizing Funding for NASA Glenn Research Center

Karen Schaefer- NASA's Glenn Research Center is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. When it opened in 1941, the center was one of just three national labs dedicated to aeronautics research. From its original mission to develop aerospace engines, the Glenn Center has since expanded to include new technologies in propulsion, power, and communications. Today, NASA Glenn is the space agency's leading center for aero-propulsion.

But Glenn scientists and engineers are involved in hundreds of other projects. Among them is research in micro-gravity, what happens to objects and living tissue when exposed to the free fall of space. But that same micro-gravity research is one of a number of Glenn projects that have been subject to funding competition from other research centers. Earlier this year millions of research dollars were cut from Glenn's 2002 budget. That crisis sent Ohio's local and Congressional leaders scrambling to restore funds to research projects central to Glenn's mission. John Lewis is a local attorney and chair of the Ohio Aerospace Council. He says the Council was formed in response to a similar funding crisis in 1995.

John Lewis- Studies were made to determine where things ought to be conducted within the various centers of NASA. And recommendations were made that NASA Glenn ought to be the Center for micro-gravity. What then happened was the administrator, Dan Golden, made a decision that he wanted to move the micro-gravity to Marshall in Huntsville, Alabama. And it was at that point that there was a major disruption at NASA Glenn. And that disruption keeps resurfacing over the years.

KS- Lewis says other Centers have been more pro-active in rallying the political and business community support necessary to secure funding for aerospace research. Because of that, he says there have been years of struggle to keep core projects like micro-gravity research at Glenn.

JL- NASA Glenn is critically important in this community, where we've got major problems at a time when, if the rest of the country is in recession, we're in Rust Belt recession. Our objective is to try to stabilize NASA Glenn. That is, to have to keep doing this year after year is not the way we'd like to see it work.

KS- Each year, NASA Glenn contributes more than a billion dollars to Ohio's economy. But in addition to its direct economic impact, Glenn is also key to developing new commercial applications that many believe could jump-start Northeast Ohio's high-tech economy. This summer, the Council created Bio-Park, a coalition of colleges and universities that will work directly with Glenn to develop biotech industries. And Charles Clark at the University of Akron says their science and technology division has been working with Glenn for years.

Charles Clark- There are programs at NASA Glenn and the University of Akron that deal in the area of polymers and we actually work with them.

KS- The state has also recognized the importance of Ohio's aerospace industry. Governor Bob Taft recently formed a new commission to support both NASA Glenn and Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton. John Harriston is chief of Internal Programs at Glenn. He says the recent gathering of support could provide a turning point in stabilizing the Center's place in Northeast Ohio.

John Harriston- It is quite new to have the Governor's office, the Ohio Aerospace Council, the Growth Association, representatives from the Cleveland Clinic and from our universities to really take an in-depth look at where NASA Glenn fits into the community. It is quite new and I applaud their efforts.

KS- But while support for Glenn from the business community is important, political support is vital. Although Ohio still lacks representation on the key House subcommittee for space programs, this year the state does have two members on the Appropriations Committee. And in the Senate, Republican Mike DeWine sits on both the Appropriations Committee and on the VA/HUD subcommittee under which space agency funding falls.

Mike DeWine- It is important for us to be able to demonstrate that Northeast Ohio, Greater Cleveland, are behind NASA Glenn. When these decisions get made they are to a great extent based on that type of pressure, that type of coming together.

KS- Legislation for Glenn's 2002 budget has already passed both Houses of Congress and is now in conference committee, where the two bills will be hammered into one. Senator De Wine remains confident that Glenn funding will emerge relatively unscathed this year. But even before September 11, NASA was under a White House mandate to reduce spending by at least 5% to cover cost overruns on the International Space Station. And with new funding demands for a war against terrorism both at home and abroad, no one can predict how future NASA budgets could be affected. In Cleveland, Karen Schaefer, 90.3 WCPN News.

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