The announcement of President Barack Obama's new direction for space exploration has caused some rancor in other parts of the country, where NASA's flagship moon program and its associated jobs will be lost. But in Mountain View, NASA Ames' Silicon Valley programs are getting a boost, officials say.
The new NASA budget is such good news for NASA Ames that it spurred deputy center director Lewis Braxton to say of the budget, "We couldn't have written it better ourselves." He later added that "I haven't been this excited since I was hired in 1978."
Braxton said the nine NASA centers across the country did not yet know exactly how much money to expect, but after reading the overall NASA budget he expects growth in employment at Ames. He said he also expects new demand for the NASA Research Park, which is being redeveloped on 75 acres to include a major multi-university campus.
Braxton expects growth because Ames is "at the forefront" of much of the technology and "affordable science" that are a priority in NASA's overall budget over the next five years, which was unveiled in Washington, D.C. on Monday. He added that the NASA budget was "overwhelmingly positive for this state."
"I expect our research park to grow," Braxton said.
President Obama has given NASA centers across the country a $6 billion increase over the next five years, upping NASA's budget from $19 billion in 2011 to $21 billion in 2015.
But to save $50 billion, NASA is abandoning its "back to the moon" mission -- the Constellation program -- while it expands partnerships with private companies and other nations to explore space.
"NASA will accelerate and enhance its support for the commercial spaceflight industry to make travel to low Earth orbit and beyond more accessible and more affordable," said Charlie Boden, who took over last year as NASA administrator, in a statement.
The new NASA budget includes an $80 million annual increase for aeronautical research, much of which Braxton expects to go to Ames, "a leading aeronautics research center for NASA" which has the world's largest collection of wind tunnels.
NASA's supercomputer, which is located at Ames, is expected to get increased use for research on global climate change, a subject which receives dramatically more attention than in previous NASA budgets, Braxton said.
"The agency understands that if it wants to solve complex problems it has to come here," Braxton said. "We're really excited about that."
There is also funding for the U.S. to remain involved with the international space station for another five years, which Braxton said will allow Ames to help research "human behavior factors" and "anti radiation mitigation measures" among other things. It's part of a NASA "human research program" funded by $269 million over five years.
There is also new funding for what is called the "next generation air transport system" which is supposed to help fix increasingly gridlocked airports. Air traffic management happens to be a subject of ongoing research and development at Ames.
Key areas of expertise at NASA Ames that are a priority in the new NASA budget include international partnerships, information technology, space science, earth science, small satellites and exploration technologies, Braxton said.
NASA Ames employs 1,250 civil servants and 1,250 contractors, but Braxton believes that number may soon increase, and the agency's new direction could be a boon to local employment, not just for NASA but for companies partnering with NASA in Silicon Valley.
It could also be a boon for the NASA Research Park, which will include research facilities, offices, 2,000 homes and a new Silicon Valley campus for California State University and other colleges. Among the companies interested in being part of such a research park is Google, which is planning a one million square foot campus at Ames, which Braxton said could be built sometime in the next few years.
"We are about being a portal for the agency to tap into Silicon Valley," Braxton said.