December 10, 2009 – Reston, Va. – AIAA President Dave Thompson today testified before the House Committee on Science and Technology on "Decisions on the Future Direction and Funding for NASA: What Will They Mean for the U.S. Aerospace Workforce and Industrial Base?" Thompson and his fellow panelists were asked to address the effects of NASA's future direction and funding on the country's aerospace industry and the nation as a whole.
Thompson said that the number of retiring professionals exceeds the supply of younger aerospace engineers entering the profession, and warned the committee that over half of all current aerospace engineers will reach retirement age within five years. "If talented young engineers and scientists are not recruited, retained, and developed to replace the generation that is near retirement, then the U.S. stands to lose the critical economic and national security benefits of the domestic aerospace industry."
He added that finding talented young engineers will become progressively more difficult at a time when fewer Americans are opting to study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects at the undergraduate and graduate levels. He painted a stark picture of the future of the industry, noting that only 15 percent of American students opt to pursue degrees in STEM disciplines at the undergraduate level, compared to nearly 50 percent of students in Asia and Europe. Thompson noted that the situation at the graduate level is even bleaker, with fewer American students pursuing doctoral degrees in STEM subjects than students in Europe and China.
Stressing the importance of human space flight in inspiring future generation of aerospace workers, Thompson warned that "A major cutback in U.S. human space programs would be substantially detrimental to the future of the aerospace workforce." Citing MIT's recent "Survey of Aerospace Student Attitudes," he said that 40 percent of students currently enrolled in engineering programs in the United States cited human space flight as their inspiration for pursing their degrees.
Thompson ended his testimony by urging the Administration and Congress to consider the collateral damage if human space programs were curtailed. As human space flight programs represented 20% of aerospace industry revenues during 2008, any major cutbacks could have large and adverse ripple effects on the American economy as well as the future of the aerospace industry."
For a complete copy of Thompson's testimony, visit www.aiaa.org/pdf/public/DThompsonDecember09.pdf
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