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NASA Kills Funding for the Home of Space Elevator Plan

Collateral Damage

"Due to funding constraints beyond NIAC's control, the 2007-2008 Call for the NIAC Student Fellows Prize (original due date April 16, 2007) has been canceled."

NIAC's Student Program awarded $9000 fellowships to several students every year allowing them "to investigate revolutionary ideas for space exploration."

The 2006 - 2007 winners were searching for answer to questions like; "Will we be able to identify water on other planets using neutron physics? Can space travelers rely on asteroids to protect them from dangerous radiation? Can near-earth objects like asteroids be harnessed and combined with space tethers to allow for faster travel to the Moon, Mars and beyond? Would large orbiting mirrors bring a small part of the Martian surface closer to Earth-like temperatures? Is it possible to develop tiny, bug-like flying robots to explore planetary surfaces?"

Now this stream of knowledge will fall silent.
While there's no official announcement yet, the word is out that NASA is killing the budget for the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) the organization that funded Dr. Brad Edwards' study to "produce an initial design for a space elevator using current or near-term technology and evaluate the effort yet required prior to construction of the first space elevator." (Source: The Space Elevator - NIAC Phase II Final Report)

"The closure of NIAC is extremely disappointing," comments Dr. Brad Edwards by email. "As many of us know and was stated in the presidential commission report a few years back, NIAC is one of the bright lights of NASA.

"Over the years though I have realized that such things like the closure of an excellent program are to be expected.

"NASA is a large federal institution driven more by political forces than by an interest to create the best space program. I think we need to stop looking to NASA for space-related activities and focus on independent programs."

The Futures Channel has an excellent video on NIAC that shows the excellent value that can be had for a few million dollars when the right people are given the resources to think freely. NIAC's funding (~$4m/year) is a minuscule percentage of the total NASA budget (~$16B/year) and the institute historically applies well over 70% of that budget to research.

The credit for breaking this story goes to Keith Cowing, writer and editor of NASA Watch (and astrobiologist, journalist, former rocket scientist, and recovering ex-civil servant) who was unreserved in his judgement of this move "This is just plain stupid. Let me repeat this for clarity's sake, Mike, ([or] whoever made it) this is A STUPID DECISION."

NIAC Director Robert Cassanova, PhD was somewhat more circumspect in his email response but no less heartfelt.

"We were very disappointed to hear that NASA will not be continuing the NIAC due to constraints on the NASA budget. However, NIAC has generated a legacy of advanced concepts that may have a significant impact on future activities in aeronautics and space.

"Possibly more importantly, NIAC will leave a legacy of a process which encourages creative
scientists and engineers to intellectually venture beyond the evolutionary concepts the dominate the near term and to creatively explore potentially revolutionary concepts. These concepts may be the genesis of emerging technologies that enable these and other revolutionary concepts.

"The NIAC process has inspired the technical community to reach for the stars with credibility and integrity.

"We appreciate the opportunity that NASA has given us for the past nine years to explore the possibilities for future space exploration that are limited only by our imagination."

The NIAC Timeline that laid out its "vision for space exploration" and the integration of those ideas into NASA's future programs has four streams. The space elevator was the only one common to them all.

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