Earthquakes put NASA's supercomputer at risk

NASA has one of the fastest supercomputers in the world, but the expensive bit of kit is at risk because the outfit could not afford an electrical back up unit.

A review panel of scientists and engineers has warned that the decline of basic research at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration jeopardizes the agency’s ability to study and explore the cosmos. The problem is that the cash is not being spent on maintenance.

The panel pointed out, as an example, how the Ames Research Center in California in the earthquake-prone Bay Area, has been unable to afford a $15 million uninterrupted power supply for the supercomputer.

A loss of power and cooling capability would fry the whole lot, the report said.

The panel moaned that research is slowing down so fast that pretty soon they will be trying to launch satellites with a large kite pulled by three white horses.

The findings could bolster the arguments of the Obama administration that NASA’s current effort to send astronauts back to the Moon is too expensive and is siphoning too much money from other programs.

Obama is spending $19 billion on NASA in the 2011 fiscal year but wants to cancel the Moon programme, known as Constellation, and replace it with the development of technologies intended to achieve a cheaper, more sustainable approach for sending people into space.

Now the National Research Council, the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences, concluded that research laboratories at the 10 NASA centres for studying materials, aeronautics and other basic science was only “marginally adequate.”

Apparently the labs are more than 40 years old and falling to bits. Deferred maintenance costs have swelled to $2.46 billion and there are two dead pigeons in the water tank.

Joseph Reagan, a co-chairman of the panel, said that NASA is not in strong, healthy shape.