To reduce its deficit, the federal government will have to make cuts to the budgets of federal agencies, but the director of the NASA Ames Research Center said he believes Ames will be OK.
"Given the financial situation the country finds itself in, we are very pleased with the support that the [Obama] administration has given NASA," said S. Pete Worden. "This center, being as we are in Silicon Valley, is ideally suited to do some critical work, and we see a very strong support for our technology programs here."
Located at Moffett Field on the northern edge of Mountain View, NASA Ames Research Center's proposed fiscal-year 2012 budget—$755 million out of NASA’s total $18.7 billion—balloons to $900 million with the portion from the center’s external partners that call the center and research park home. This budget benefits the region threefold, according to Worden.
"If you add the other [two] centers, we are over $3 billion [in funding] in California,” he said about the Dryden Flight Research Center at the Edwards Air Force Base and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. "Our analysis shows that the actual impact on the economy is at least three times that. We expect that the impact of NASA on this state is pretty substantial—$5-to-$10 billion a year. That’s quite a big impact.”
However less than 5 percent of Ames’ budget, $39 million, would go toward the rehabilitation and modernization of an aging infrastructure where 2,500 people work everyday. Sixty tenants, including startups and universities such as University of California at Santa Cruz, Carnegie Mellon and Singularity University—also lease space at Ames.
Except for one new certified green building completed in April 2010, which Worden explained was the greenest in the federal government, most of Ames’ infrastructure predates the 1960s. The center itself opened on Dec. 20 1939.
Worden said he understood the challenge but said, “The agency continues to try.”
“It’s renovation by replacement,” he said. “As we can, we are going to replace the buildings with new sustainable efforts.”
A fraction of this amount would go toward renovations to the historic Hangar One, but Worden didn’t know how much yet, as the budget was still only a request. The airfields “are currently self-sustaining” from the resources that NASA Ames gets from its tenants, he explained.
From the proposed budget, $499 million would be spent on Ames’ core projects in the Earth sciences, astrophysics, planetary science, on the Kepler planet-hunting telescope, on the airborne SOFIA observatory, on aeronautics research that benefits NextGen air traffic control and aviation safety, on satellites and small spacecraft missions, biotechnology, and exploration activities related to the International Space Station and human research.
Many of these projects, according to Worden, lend themselves to collaboration with agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense, and also companies like Google, which NASA Ames works with on its Lunar X Prize competition.
NASA’s budget is still to be determined by Congress. Administrator Charles Bolden, however, said at the agency’s budget conference that he’s “confident that we have sufficiently angered enough people and sufficiently pleased some that we got it right.”
He added, “We are focused on bringing a leaner more responsive NASA. We are going to live within our means and look toward the future.”
Though Ames’ budget would be merely 5 percent of the agency’s total, the center’s budget has increased during Worden’s tenure. He credits Ames' innovative work in Silicon Valley.
“When I came here five years ago, it was a little over $600 million,” he said. “We are not seeing huge jumps, but it shows that the agency likes what we are doing.”