USA Today reported last week about a little-publicized report by the National Research Council titled “Solar and Space Physics and Its Role in Space Exploration”. The report discusses the need for studies of the Sun, its interaction with the Earth’s magnetic field, and related topics, as part of the overall exploration program. The NRC put together a “decadal survey” last year outlining a sequence of missions to achieve a set of scientific goals; the new study says that this strategy is still valid despite the new exploration emphasis. It does, though, caution about budget cuts to space science programs that have stretched out that schedule:
In the new, “stretched” schedule that accommodates the expanded scope of exploration, the scientific goals for solar and space physics are compromised, particularly in the loss of synergy among missions that will no longer overlap unless missions are extended beyond their normal lifetime.
(This page of the report illustrates the changes in the funding profile for NASA space science programs.) Of course, it is common practice at NASA to extend the life of missions that are functioning normally, so this will mitigate some of problem. The problem is that while space science is important, it’s not as sexy as, say, planetary science or astronomy, which can wow the public—and legislators—with pretty pictures that most space science programs can’t compete with.