NASA Head Agrees to Help Strengthen Aerospace Manufacturing and the STEM Workforce

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, led a Committee hearing with NASA Administrator Bill Nelson on the President’s FY2024 NASA budget. During the hearing, Sen. Cantwell questioned Administrator Nelson on new opportunities to support Washington state’s growing aerospace industry and alleviate the shortage of STEM workers in Washington. 

“In my state alone, we're looking at a 60,000 STEM worker shortfall by 2026. And this notion of continuing our efforts on material science, I believe, is a key aspect of where we need to go,” said Sen. Cantwell. “So, NASA, [National Institute of Standards and Technology, and] industry need to continue to collaborate on what I think is training and skilling people in material sciences. Do you agree that NASA should help and work on these issues?”

Administrator Nelson replied: “Indeed, I do. And another thing that you are looking at is thermoplastic composites as a new material -- that would not only help aviation industry, but also the space industry…At your request, Madam Chairman, NASA, Commerce, Defense are developing recommendations to leverage the manufacturing here in America to accelerate our capabilities in manufacturing aerospace technologies like thermoplastics.”

NASA relies on the aerospace research and manufacturing industries currently thriving in the state. Our contributions include:

  1. 42 Washington companies are providing services or components for the Artemis missions to return to the Moon, including General Dynamics in Bothell, Aerojet Rocketdyne in Redmond, Blue Origin in Kent, and Toray Composite Material in Tacoma;
  2. Workers in Redmond provided parts of the propulsion system built for the NASA DART mission, which demonstrated our ability to defend Earth from a planet-destroying asteroid;
  3. Team Corporation, in Burlington, contributed to testing the James Webb Space Telescope, to ensure it could survive travel into space and complete its scientific exploration mission.
  4. NASA astronauts Kayla Barron and Anne McClain, both Washington natives, are among the people under consideration to go the Moon for future Artemis missions.

“It should be clear to every member of Congress: we cannot operate our science agencies on the cheap, and we shouldn’t operate them without clear, multi-year direction,” said Sen. Cantwell. “Stable, growing investments in the technologies of the future—from hypersonic wind tunnels to advanced manufacturing—are the best way to protect our national and economic security.”

In November 2019, Senator Cantwell co-sponsored the bipartisan NASA Authorization Act of 2020, which aimed to recognize the Artemis missions in U.S. law for the first time. To provide certainty and stability for the program, language authorizing the Artemis program for the first time and requiring NASA to establish stringent oversight requirements was eventually incorporated into the CHIPS & Science Act, which Cantwell spearheaded through Congress. The CHIPS & Science Act was signed into law on August 9, 2022.

Video of Sen. Cantwell’s hearing opening is available HERE. Video of Sen. Cantwell Q&A with NASA Administrator Nelson is available HERE, audio HERE, and a full transcript HERE.