It’s been two weeks after the release of a NASA budget proposal that proposed major cuts and radical changes to the agency’s planetary science programs, particularly its Mars exploration program. While congressional action on that budget proposal is still months in the future, proponents of the program are continuing to rally their opposition to those cuts while NASA officials defend the proposal.
Earlier this week NASA administrator Charles Bolden visited JPL, where he “seemed to receive a warm and friendly welcome from JPL staffers”, in the words of a Pasadena Star-News account, despite a budget proposal that could cause some of them to lose their jobs. He offered few additional details about the agency’s plans to replace the previous plans for the joint ExoMars missions with a “viable, affordable” alternative that could feature missions in 2018 and/or 2020. If those plans do work out, Bolden promised, “hopefully you’ll find a minimum loss of jobs here” at JPL, the Pasadena Sun reported.
Advocates in Congress, though, are continuing their push to restore planetary funding. In an op-ed in this week’s issue of Space News (a version of which also appeared in the Star-News) Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and John Culberson (R-TX) made the case that funding for planetary science, including not just Mars exploration but a proposed Europa orbiter (a personal favorite of Culberson), should be restored. “Slashing NASA’s budget for exploring the solar system would be a serious mistake that would threaten our nation’s hard-won and long-held leadership role” in space exploration, they argue. The administration’s proposed cuts to planetary science “would compromise a program painstakingly built up over decades and jeopardize a work force that, once dissolved, would be difficult, if not impossible, to reconstitute.” In addition, Schiff held a town hall yesterday with JPL employees “to discuss the future of space exploration”, according to a tweet from the congressman, which presumably included discuss of Mars exploration funding.
In addition, yesterday the American Astronomical Society (AAS) released its own statement on the proposed NASA budget. Unlike the AAS’s own Division for Planetary Sciences, which was sharply critical of the proposed Mars and other planetary cuts, the main AAS offered a more nuanced view. The AAS is “deeply concerned” about those cuts, the release stated, but the paragraph discussing that comes after one where the organization of professional astronomers said it was “grateful” for funding for the James Webb Space Telescope. “It is challenging to receive a budget from the President that supports part of our discipline and undercuts another,” AAS executive director Kevin Marvel said in the statement, saying the AAS would work to get Congress to “fully support all of the decadal surveys’ priorities.”