Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA), whose current district includes JPL and Pasadena, has been a strong advocate for NASA’s planetary science program and, specifically, Mars exploration. On Saturday, he reiterated his desire to see to reverse cuts to those programs while also pushing for better goals for the nation’s space program.
“We have too long drifted without a strategic vision for space that can survive changes of administration as well as congressional appropriations cycles,” Schiff told attendees of the International Mars Society Convention in Pasadena. “Now, as we prepare to celebrate Curiosity’s arrival on Mars, we face the urgent need to set new goals and reinvigorate the space program.”
Schiff said he believes a logical long-term goal for NASA’s exploration efforts is Mars. He said he thinks the Mars Program Planning Group, commissioned by NASA earlier this year to review NASA’s Mars strategy, will recommend a path that calls for a human landing on Mars by the 2030s, a decade before a sample return mission. He called on attendees to petition their congressional representatives “for an increase in NASA’s budget as well as a national commitment to lead an effort to put humans on Mars by a date certain. Without persistence and clarity, we will continue to drift.”
Taking a more tactical approach, Schiff asked convention attendees to continue efforts to restore NASA’s planetary science budget, which have met with some success in the reduced cuts in the appropriations bills working through the House and Senate. “We still have a long way to go, and it is my hope that as we go to conference—if we go to conference—we can increase those numbers further,” he said. He warned, though, that the recent deal for a six-month continuing resolution could include some across-the-board budget cuts. “The impact on Mars will depend on how NASA allocates funds in its operating plans,” which in turn depends on guidance it receives from OMB.
“The immediate future is murky, and we need your help,” he said, suggesting that NASA was surprised by the reaction to the planned cuts since their announcement in February. “The only thing that has rescued us from the severity of what the administration proposed was the fact that planetary scientists like you have been making their voices heard and loudly,” he said. (Most of the audience of the Mars Society conference are better classified as enthusiasts and activists than as scientists, though.) “And I think frankly it has astounded the administration that you have spoken with such boldness and clarity.”
Schiff said he believes Mars was targeted for cuts because the administration thought there would be, at best, a muted reaction and little opposition. “They have been astounded by the fury of the pushback, and that is the only thing that has saved us so far.”