With NASA poised to develop a human space transportation system for the first time in more than 25 years-and most of its work force fast approaching retirement age-the agency is in dire need of younger personnel who can see the project through.
But recent audits of the program that urge NASA to encourage older workers to retire so that younger ones can take their place will rob the agency of its institutional memory and experience, says Lee Stone, PhD, a human factors psychologist at NASA Ames Research Center.
Stone, who is also a representative of the NASA Council of theInternational Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, spoke at a May 17 hearing by the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics.
"NASA is not facing a work force crisis," said Stone. "It is facing a fiscal crisis."
Since 2004, Congress has substantially reduced funding for the aeronautics program, which includes human factors research. But, said Stone, Congress is not providing enough money for NASA's expanding responsibilities, including an expensive space exploration mission. Congress should reverse the trend in budget cuts to aeronautics and exploration programs so that the agency's missions can remain solvent, he said.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) asked Stone where he thought the money should come from. Stone replied that the military has more than $22 billion for the space program and that Congress should leverage those funds for NASA.
"If you tell NASA what to do, you need to give it money," Stone said. "If there's not enough money, then you need to tell NASA what not to do."