I have written several posts (most recently, here and here) about the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) and it’s struggle to stay alive. At the end of last August, NASA had killed this agency, citing budget issues.
Quoting Mr. Leonard’s post: “From the report, the committee has expressed concern that NASA has decided to close the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts ‘without a rigorous assessment of the Institute’s merit.'”
I can only say “Amen” to that… I’m sure that both NASA and the Appropriations Committee have a gazillion special interest groups yammering at them about how “their project” has to be funded. But NIAC was underwriting, and leveraging, an investment in the future, real “blue-sky” stuff. Their investment into Dr. Edwards research was a perfect example. Anyone who attended or paid attention to this year’s Space Elevator Games and saw not only a carbon-nanotube tether, but also multiple laser-powered climbs, knows that this is an idea whose time is rapidly approaching. And the NIAC grant to Dr. Edwards helped make it happen.
The final NIAC report (available here) makes for very interesting reading. The NIAC “Funding Tree” (shown as a graphic at the top of this post – click on it for a larger version) shows how NIAC-distributed funds leveraged private-sector funds. The most successful of these, again according to this graphic, was Dr. Edwards work with the Space Elevator concept. NIAC summarized it’s funding of Dr. Edward’s research as follows:
“This effort sparked the creation of numerous businesses and attracted funding with a particular emphasis on the development of carbon nanotube materials. Space Elevator has been the focus of numerous prize competitions, including NASA’s Centennial Challenges program. Additional support: at least $8.5 million. Future impact: billions if not trillions of dollars in launch savings relative to current methods. As one NIAC Fellow explained: “The Space Elevator would change everything.”
I love that last line; “The Space Elevator would change everything.” It would, it certainly would.
If you have a member of the Appropriations Committee from your state (and better yet, from your district), write him/her a letter and let them know what you think. Compared to the $555 billion dollar appropriations bill which was just signed into law, the total NIAC budget of $5.9 million (over 9 years) is not even a rounding error.