By Kevin Kelley
A proposed reorganization of NASA’s Glenn Research Center would have the facility concentrate on four specialties – power, propulsion, communications and materials for extreme environments.
The reorganization plan still needs approval from NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. Glenn’s new director, Jim Free, said he expects action to be taken on the plan within the next year.
“The sooner we can get there the better,” said Free, who joined NASA in 1990 and had served as Glenn’s deputy director for a year.
Free and outgoing Director Ray Lugo discussed the center’s future with reporters Dec. 12.
The reorganization will better position Glenn for a future in which the budget for the space agency may be stagnant or shrink, the NASA leaders said. Free said he did not anticipate any reductions in the center’s civil servant workforce.
“We do a lot of things at NASA Glenn, and we do a lot of things well,” said Lugo, who is retiring from the space agency. “But we’re not as deep in areas where we’re good as we need to be. What we have been doing is trying to narrow our focus a little bit and get deeper in areas where we can really impact not only the NASA work but industries in the local community.”
Free said the proposed reorganization would concentrate resources from Glenn’s existing specialties in ways that shepherd technologies from early development to flight.
“So there’s one group that we look to that takes advanced communication, thinks up the next great idea and has the ability to push it all the way to flight,” Free explained. “That’s what the mission of the center is – driving our research and technology into our missions.”
Aeronautics-related projects, such as aircraft engine icing research and work for the Federal Aviation Administration, will remain prominent at Glenn, Free said.
Glenn’s space-related research will include utilizing its Space Power Facility, the world’s largest space environment vacuum chamber, to test future NASA spacecraft. But the facility, located at Glenn’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, will also be made available to commercial space firms working on private space transportation systems, said Lugo, who was appointed Glenn’s director in 2010.
In addition to the work it does for the space agency, Glenn performs $40 million annually in research and testing work for outside entities such as large aerospace companies, said Lugo, one of the last NASA executives who was with the agency in the Apollo days.
The center’s icing tunnel is booked by firms into 2014, Lugo noted. Glenn’s engineers have done consulting work for firms as diverse as aerospace companies to a vinyl record manufacturer, he said. Glenn wants more area firms to see the center as a solutions provider, or even a local laboratory, Lugo said.
Lugo acknowledged that an “undercurrent of uncertainty” about the future, related to changing budgets and assignments, has been present at Glenn in recent years.
“If you look at the history of the center from 1994 to today, we’ve had more downs than ups,” Lugo said. But, he said, Glenn employees’ work over the years has positioned the center well to compete for future assignments.
Of his 37-year career with the space agency, Lugo said, “It’s been a good ride.”