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The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA)

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    Engine of U.S. Economy is Science R&D, says Rep. Fattah

    By Dave Majumdar, posted at 11:05 a.m. EST


    ChakaFattahThe United States must continue to invest in scientific research and development work if the nation hopes to maintain its economic prowess, Congressman Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., told an audience at AIAA’s SciTech 2014 conference just outside Washington, D.C., on Jan. 13.

     

    “Investments in science and innovation are at the core of what has positioned our nation up until this moment,” said Fattah, who is the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on commerce, justice and science. “We have to make these investments.”

     

    Fattah noted that while the U.S. invests $7 billion a year in the National Science Foundation, that figure is matched by comparatively tiny Singapore’s investments in science.

     

    Similarly, while NASA still holds a relative advantage over rivals from China, India, South Korea and others, that lead is no longer the absolute dominance the U.S. once enjoyed. “The truth is, our absolute lead in this industry is now a relative lead,” said Fattah. “We have competition that has emerged, and we welcome that competition,” because it prompts the U.S. to rise to the challenge, he said. The competition from rivals in the space industry has caused the Obama administration to push space exploration much more aggressively than it has before, Fattah added. “In terms of keeping the U.S. positioned as a world leader in this regard, the advent of commercial crewing and commercial cargo programs has ushered in an exciting opportunity for partnership with private enterprise,” he said, citing recent advancements by companies such as Space-X.

     

    Meanwhile, the U.S. needs to keep investing in the national labs and in bodies such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which are often at the forefront of nurturing advanced new technologies and bringing them to fruition, said Fattah. That is particularly true when there is not yet a commercial demand and the private sector is not able to fund those kinds of cutting-edge developments.

     

    There is bipartisan support for funding scientific research and development in the Congress, Fattah said. He noted that even with federal budget cuts, research and development may yet get a boost. Longer term, the U.S. needs to set out critical areas of scientific development that it must fund for the sake of its economy, he said. The European Union, for example, has a seven-year 70-billion-euro fund set aside to invest in research in six critical areas, Fattah noted.

     

    The U.S. must also do better at communicating the benefits of scientific developments to the American public, since so many innovations that are taken for granted day-to-day originate from federally funded research and development, Fattah said. One example he cited was fly-by-control systems on modern jetliners, which trace their origins to the Apollo program of the 1960s.

     

    Cutting federal research and development funding is foolish, he said, because “the engine of our economy is innovation. When we’re looking to make cuts, as if we were trying to lighten the load on an airplane, the idea that the first thing that you want to toss out is the engine is not the best approach.”

     

    Image: Chaka Fattah, Opening Keynote: “The Societal Importance of Federal R&D Investments"