Technologies for power generation and next-generation propulsion
systems will move to the forefront at the National Aeronautical
and Space Administration, said the agency’s top official.
Advanced propulsion systems are critical to meeting NASA’s
long-term science and technology goals, said Sean O’Keefe,
who has been NASA’s administrator since December. “Just
to get to the edges of our own solar system, it would take the effort
of roughly 10 to a dozen years, even if we hit the gates just right,”
O’Keefe told a conference of the American Institute of Aeronautics
and Astronautics. “With the laws of physics, we are restricted
at this juncture. We are restricted by our current power capabilities.
“We want to emphasize power generation and propulsion systems
through the use of nuclear power,” he said. “Over the
next several years, we’ve dedicated up to a billion dollars
to developing nuclear power and propulsion systems.”
One top priority today for the O’Keefe’s administration
is to restore the credibility of NASA, which has suffered in recent
years a string of high-profile technical failures and cost overruns
in the International Space Station. O’Keefe is spearheading
an “effort to restore our credibility, not only with the Congress,
but the American public, in terms of delivering on our capacity
to do what we say we’re going to do,” he said.
Before being appointed NASA administrator, O’Keefe was deputy
director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. During
the first Bush administration, he served as both Defense Department
comptroller and Secretary of the Navy.
O’Keefe has a reputation for promoting efficiency and cost
cutting. The Bush administration, under pressure from Congress,
brought O’Keefe to NASA, expecting that he could streamline
the agency’s management practices. His predecessor, Dan Goldin,
was considered a visionary leader who deeply cared about space research
and technological advancement, but some lawmakers charged that Goldin
had failed to keep budgets in line.
O’Keefe recognized that NASA has a credibility gap, but he
stopped short of criticizing his predecessor. Instead, he highlighted
the value of current NASA programs that he believes will help the
$14 billion agency get back on track.
O’Keefe said he wants NASA to make investments in new technologies
in the aeronautics field. He stressed that NASA will continue to
pursue partnerships with the aerospace industry and universities.
He asserted that NASA has a lot of work ahead in research and development.
“We need to continue to look at the technical limitations
that we need to overcome,” he said.
NASA, he added, will remain engaged in outer space-exploration
activities, both “to protect life and to inject life …
and to look for other life forms in our universe.”
O’Keefe is optimistic about the future of the International
Space Station. “It is positively amazing,” he said.
“To do it even here on Earth would be an overwhelming challenge
all by itself,” he said. Some of the “interesting complexities”
in the program include the participation of 16 nations, each of
whom uses different measurement approaches. “We’ve had
to reconcile what we do, in fundamental areas like measuring systems,
in order to assure that all the components make and compatibly work
together,” O’Keefe said.
The station today is roughly the size of a baseball diamond, operating
250 miles above the Earth, he said. “We’ve decided to
build the whole thing in space, in low-earth orbit, while everything
is moving at 18,000 miles an hour.”
Eventually, O’Keefe said, the space station will be built
out to the size of a football field, “including the two end
O’Keefe said he hopes that with the space station, NASA can
accomplish the following objectives: