About a month ago, stories were circulating that NASA was getting ready to close down NIAC, a decision which many of us found to be incomprehensible. I blogged about this story earlier as did many others.
Via Andy Price, I’ve become aware of an effort within NIAC to try and save the agency. They have asked that people who can help them demonstrate benefits of NIAC funding in the past, contact NIAC with this information. Specifically, they are looking for a demonstrated ROI in areas such as;
1) Subsequent investment by NASA, other government agencies, or the private sector.
2) Intellectual contributions that have resulted in an agency putting resources into its own studies of a concept. For example, prompted by the success of a Phase I or Phase II concept, an agency convenes panels to study the work, includes it in a decadal plan, or otherwise funds studies of its own.
3) Unexpected spin-off technologies. For example, some NIAC studies have resulted in new medical technologies.
4) The production of technical PhD and Master’s level students.
5) The production of new jobs.
6) Enhancement of public understanding of agency missions (for most of you, this would be beneficial PR for NASA, or NRO, or DARPA).
For us in the Space Elevator community, the results of NIAC funding have been nothing short of revolutionary; before their funding of Dr. Bradley Edward’s research, an SE was strictly a Science-Fiction concept only. Now it’s something that is an actual possibility. The Space Elevator project is gaining public momentum and acceptance, to the point of being the subject of conferences, in museum exhibits, on TV shows and in Space Elevator games (both for “adults” – ie. chasing after real prize money and for kids, in the Robotic games). To me, this is what “blue-sky” funding is all about; taking a concept which is totally revolutionary and finding a way whereby it can actually happen.
At least that’s something along the lines of what I’m going to say in my letter (email, actually) to NIAC.
Here’s another article about NIAC, this from Wired.com in 2004.
Further words from Brad Edwards on the potential defunding of this program; “My general thoughts are that this is a very poor decision on NASA’s part. NIAC has demonstrated that it can produce results on a small budget unlike other components of NASA proper. Cutting NIAC is easy simply because it is an external contract. NASA would be better served by taking the more difficult road and trimming the non-productive components inside the centers and funding development of new technologies that can save time and money while reducing risk and producing better results in the long-run. NIAC and programs like it, if utilized, can provide the tools to define NASA roadmaps and programs that have low risk and produce the results needed to succeed.”
If you want to offer some words to NIAC, send them to Diana Jennings (djennings [AT] niac.usra.edu). Dr Edwards says to send “Specific results, work, ROI are best but stated support can’t hurt.”
Amen to that. Let’s let ’em know that what they do matters…