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Administrator delineates NASA's new face as budget shrinks

In plain language-"I know I'm coming on like gangbusters"-NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin told an MIT audience November 29 that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, hit by deep budget cuts, is demanding more for every dollar it spends.

By doing so, he said, NASA and space exploration have a bright future. "In spite of budget cuts, there is tremendous hope," he said. "Don't panic."

Mr. Goldin was the luncheon speaker for the second annual Space Forum sponsored by the Massachusetts Space Grant Consortium.

A number of area universities and colleges, led by MIT, make up the consortium, which is directed by Dr. Laurence R. Young, Apollo Program Professor of Astronautics. Its goal is to further the development of space science and space engineering through multi-disciplinary educational programs.

During the morning program, government, academic and industry representatives came together for discussion and workshops focusing on the topic, "Working with the New NASA." They also heard talks by NASA Associate Administrators Dr. Harry Holloway and Alphonso V. Diaz.

MIT President Charles M. Vest, who was appointed by Vice President Al Gore to head the Space Station Design Review Panel in 1993, spoke briefly at the luncheon, saying that Mr. Goldin, in times of financial constraints, had done some "very difficult and tough things" in leading NASA through a period of "dramatic change."

Mr. Goldin, in his talk, said that in NASA and throughout government, there are "those who are dealing with change and those who are fighting it.

"It's a different world," he said. "This is the fundamental issue. The Cold War is over. NASA isn't going to operate in a climate where money is no object in order to beat the Russians."

As an example, he said, the "new NASA"-a phrase he used several times-can and will cancel contracts with industry and universities, something it did not do in the past even in the face of huge overruns, if there is evidence of mismanagement.

If anyone bids to win and not to perform, "we will cancel," Mr. Goldin said.

"Contractors can't hide behind treating the government differently than they treat commercial clients," Mr. Goldin added. "We are a customer and we need to be treated with the dignity of customers, and not like a bunch of government weenies."

By operating more efficiently and wisely, Mr. Goldin said, NASA should be able to accomplish much that it wants to do in the years ahead, although some of its priorities will have changed.

"We can't tell our children there's no hope because we're going through transition," he said.

Even though the agency's budget is coming down, he added, "we think productivity is going up," as evidenced by the initiation of several new programs.

He said nothing was more important than developing low-cost launch vehicles "because access to space is the highest order."

When the program is fully operational, he said, "we intend to launch a dozen spacecraft a year-one a month-to explore" space in missions that will have a variety of goals, including seeking evidence of life on other planets.

He also said in response to a question that the proposed space station "is the linchpin for everything we do. We are going to build a space station."

In this endeavor, as with so many others, he said, "we have to prove that we can work with other nations cooperatively. We must have international cooperation."

He said NASA also wants to develop a crew rescue vehicle for the space station, but not at the industry-estimated cost of $1.5 billion. "Can we do it for $50 million?" he asked, adding that a group at the Johnson Space Center thinks it can do just that.

One of the principal ways NASA is bringing down costs, he said, is to procure technology that already exists "and not waste taxpayer dollars inventing it." He said this will call for new relationships between government, industry and universities.

Other factors coming into to play are a global economy and "going from a manufacturing-based economy to an information-based economy. In this information age," he said, "people are going to be displaced."

A new and streamlined NASA, which now has 215,000 employees, plans to eliminate 55,000 jobs, he said. A spokesperson for the agency said later that this includes "contractor jobs."

"The American taxpayers are our customers," Mr. Goldin said. "They want a space program, not a jobs program."

Mr. Goldin acknowledged the difficulties that lie ahead by saying that "NASA is thinking clearer; we need a year or two to stabilize this."

Before concluding, Mr. Goldin spoke generally about deep cuts in research and development funds, saying "there reaches a point" where this becomes a threat to the welfare of the nation.

"We have to make long-term R&D investments," he said "We have to invest in our children."

Mr. Goldin, who had called his extemporaneous talk, "Common Sense in Government," said that where R&D was concerned, "we're losing common sense," although the impact might not be felt for a decade or so.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 6, 1995.

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