NASA Moves (Farther) From Aeronautics

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When your head is above the clouds, it's hard to remember your roots. The first A in NASA, which stands for Aeronautics, is rapidly becoming archaic as the organization throws more and more resources behind ambitious space projects. And while space stations, a trip to Mars and a replacement for the space shuttle are certainly headline grabbers, the more mundane work of ensuring the vast majority of us atmosphere-bound aviators have a crack at the new technologies borne of those billions of tax dollars is falling by the wayside. According to a story in the Orlando Sentinel, less than 6 percent of NASA's $16.2 billion budget is going to aeronautics in 2005. (Perhaps they're thinking there's always Allen, Fossett, Branson, and Rutan.) The focus of NASA's ground-bound work has also shifted. Rather than new airfoils, exotic materials and futuristic designs, the organization now seems preoccupied with air traffic control, airport noise and efficiency projects. Two NASA facilities, the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., have borne the brunt of the cuts, which have totaled more than 2,500 jobs. NASA spokesman Victor Lebacqz told the Sentinel that less money means doing things differently. "And what comes out of that is what comes out of that," he said.