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Aerospace Engineering Professor and Associate Dean Thomas Zurbuchen told the House Science, Space and Technology Committee that as Congress looks at NASA's mission, the number-one priority should be people and their know-how.Making sure America's space program has the talent it needs to carry out its mission is paramount, according to a U-M space scientist.

Thomas Zurbuchen — professor of space science and aerospace engineering, and associate dean for entrepreneurial programs in the College of Engineering — told the House Science, Space and Technology Committee on Wednesday that as Congress looks at NASA's mission, the number-one priority should be people and their know-how.

"Top talent does not just hang around and wait for better [budget] times," Zurbuchen said. "Most of it is in academia and in industry. Encouraging competition in emerging space industries will keep top talent focused on efforts that ultimately aid the nation in achieving its most ambitious goals."

At the hearing on the future of NASA, Zurbuchen said small programs that involve lots of students are a great example of how to maximize the impact of NASA science.

"The RAX program at the University of Michigan … built and launched two cubesats within two years for less than $1 million," he said. "These missions provided hands-on experience to 50 of our best students. RAX is about innovative disruption, training the world's best talent for our space program."

Zurbuchen urged the committee to support NASA investments in these smaller projects, but also in modest-sized programs where university faculty are principal investigators.

"Those are the types of programs where research resulted in NASA's first Nobel Prize, and the type that built the spacecraft currently exploring Mercury," he added.

"NASA science should stretch our imagination, stimulate our thinking and demonstrate leadership worldwide. Prime discoveries that further our understanding of the cosmos have fueled and inspired the human imagination across all cultures and all times."

About Michigan Engineering: The University of Michigan College of Engineering is one of the top engineering schools in the country. Eight academic departments are ranked in the nation's top 10 -- some twice for different programs. Its research budget is one of the largest of any public university. Its faculty and students are making a difference at the frontiers of fields as diverse as nanotechnology, sustainability, healthcare, national security and robotics. They are involved in spacecraft missions across the solar system, and have developed partnerships with automotive industry leaders to transform transportation. Its entrepreneurial culture encourages faculty and students alike to move their innovations beyond the laboratory and into the real world to benefit society. Its alumni base of more than 75,000 spans the globe.

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