Goldin Speaks Out
NASA is engaged in a life-or-death political struggle as budgets continue to decrease
P> The 55-year-old administrator of NASA carries the weight of the space program on his shoulders. Daniel Goldin became the ninth NASA administrator, the most senior position at the agency, in April 1992. Appointed during the Bush administration, he immediately earned a reputation as a reformer.
His first target was the NASA budget, and it was then that he created the mantra, "faster, better, cheaper." Goldin was reappointed by President Bill Clinton, and by the time the fiscal 1994 budget was submitted to Congress in April 1993, NASA's five-year spending plan got cut by $15 billion, the equivalent of an entire year's funding.
Before his NASA appointment, the New York City native was vice president and general manager of the TRW Space & Technology Group in Redondo Beach, Calif. Goldin served 25 years at TRW as manager of the development and production of advanced spacecraft, technologies and space science instruments.
WT: With such a large and willing space commercial sector, how do you justify the existence of NASA?
GOLDIN: There is no commercial reason to perform astrophysics, to perform space physics, to build an infrastructure to support some of the fundamental science activities that NASA performs, even some of the earth science. Why would a commercial company go to a bank and ask for a loan to study how galaxies form, how the solar system is developed and answer the question if life exists outside of planet Earth, to study some of the forces around the bodies of the universe, to develop a fundamental understanding of climate change and environment change? There is no corporation that is willing to make a 20-year, long-term investment on fundamental research when they don't know what the outcome will be. NASA is about long-range goals, answering fundamental questions that no commercial entity can address.
WT: What kind of role will NASA play in the future?
GOLDIN: A large portion of what we do will be in partnerships with industry, cooperative agreements and then government contracts. Industry has a need for near-term product development and near-term R&D. As I said, we take decades to answer fundamental questions. We will do the long-term research and partnership with industry that will privatize a lot of these things so we don't have to spend the money. The good news is that they can't afford the long-term research. The better news is that they will privatize and the U.S. taxpayer won't have to pay for it. And we'll be able to buy commercial products to do the things we want to do.
WT: Will NASA be able to remain aggressive in research despite these budget cuts?
GOLDIN: The budget cuts that we've had to date have been a godsend. It has forced us to restructure. It transitioned us away from a NASA that was beating the Soviet Union to a NASA that cooperates and competes. We compete with U.S. national interest, and we cooperate with the interest of human kind. You can't measure the vitality of NASA by the dollars going in. We've commercialized products, we've taken NASA out of the operations business and focused on R&D. Being a science program, you shouldn't get into operations, and a large fraction of our budget was in operations. Our people were managing contracts instead of doing fundamental science. Don't measure us by the budget. Don't say the budget has to go up to get better science. That's saying that the space program exists for the pleasure of the NASA scientists, the research and the people from industry. Measure us by how we affect America. Measure us by how our productivity goes up. The budget came down 36 percent and the productivity went up 40 percent.
WT: If you had an extra $500 million, where would you put it?
GOLDIN: That's the wrong thing to say, because we'll go back to the old way. I have challenged the engineers at Johnson Space Flight Center to figure out how to go to the moon for 1/30 the price of Apollo. If you give them more money, you will have a big fat government program. We have challenged the astrophysical community to build a Hubble replacement for 1/10, 1/30 the cost. We need to eliminate unnecessary work. We need to cut the cycle time. In 1993, the average spacecraft cost $6 million. Today, it costs $2 million.
WT: Ten years from now, how will the American taxpayer and Congress view NASA?
GOLDIN: They will use the National Science Foundation to solve near-term problems. You can't take a vacation from R&D, you can't take a vacation from fundamental science. I think we have squeezed out an enormous amount. Some 55,000 people will no longer be with NASA. You need stability. You need focus, and enough is enough. I came here to serve the president of the United States. I made a list of things that I would like to accomplish when I was appointed, and I'm moving down that list.