Congress, NASA

Concerns about planetary funding in 2013 and 2014

While much of the attention in the upcoming hearings this afternoon and tomorrow morning on NASA’s proposed fiscal year 2014 budget will be on items like the agency’s new asteroid initiative, SLS and Orion, and commercial crew, one other topic that may get some notice is the agency’s planetary science budget. Congress moved to partially restore a 20-percent cut for planetary science in NASA’s 2013 budget proposal, but that cut returns in the 2014 proposal, and there are concerns NASA may redirect funding allocated to planetary in the 2013 budget.

Last last week, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) issued a press release expressing concern about NASA’s funding for planetary science. “There have been reports that the FY 2013 NASA Operating Plan will slash funding from the Planetary Science programs,” the release stated, referring to the operating plan that NASA must deliver to Congress by May 10 outlining any reprogramming of funds it is seeking from the levels in the 2013 appropriations bill. The release included a letter signed by Schiff as well as Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) and Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) outlining specific issues with the FY13 spending bill. “While we fully understand that the funding levels enumerated in the bill and report are subject to change to reflect the across the board and sequester cuts, we expect that the balance among programs will remain consistent with the structure directed by Congress,” they write.

Meanwhile, the FY14 budget seeks $1.22 billion for planetary science in 2014, about the same as what NASA requested in 2013 and down fromthe $1.5 billion in 2012. In recent days The Planetary Society has been trying to drum up public support for increasing planetary funding, directing people to an online form calling for its funding to be restored (at least to 2012 levels.) “In difficult economic times, The Planetary Society recommends that Congress prioritize the effective and productive Planetary Science Division within NASA and fund it at $1.5 billion per year,” the organization stated in testimony it is submitting to Congress this week on the NASA budget proposal.

14 comments to Concerns about planetary funding in 2013 and 2014

  • Dark Blue Nine

    Looks like we may also need to be concerned about more JWST overruns in the not-so-distant future:

    [GAO Report:] “… In addition, only two instruments have been delivered for integration with ISIM and the other two instruments will be delivered at least 11 months late.”

    When Smith asked Bolden again about the two late Webb instrments, Bolden’s reponse was: “That’s news to me”


    Justify your funding request.

    For instance, Curiosity, a slated two- year mission and which cost $2.6 billion, has been on Mars for nearly nine months. That’s roughly $100 million/month and public deserves at least $900 million of ‘science’ returned so far to justify the expenditure. That retur has yet to be seen.

    • Coastal Ron

      DCSCA opined:

      That’s roughly $100 million/month and public deserves at least $900 million of ‘science’ returned so far to justify the expenditure. That retur has yet to be seen.

      Have you considered that you haven’t seen the return because you refuse to look for it?

      Anyone that is competent to use the internet can find examples of the science return that Curiosity is returning. Here is one of the more recent.

      So which is it – do you refuse to back up any of your claims, or are you just incompetent doing internet searches?

      And really, how is science return measured?

      For instance, the Apollo Moon missions, in today’s dollars, cost an average $26B for each successful mission – how do you quantify the ROI for that?

      Sure some claim the effort created many things that improved our lives, but we didn’t need to go to the Moon to do that. What did we learn about the Moon that was worth so much?

      Nothing really, as the whole mission was political, not science driven.

      And since you idolize the Apollo program, don’t get so hoity-toity about the ROI of science missions when the science ROI of Apollo was pretty darn low compared to it’s cost. We could have sent robots to the Moon to hit golf balls and go bouncing over the dunes.

      At least Mars is a more likely place for the human race to take up a second residence at, and from that standpoint understanding what’s there is important…

      • DCSCA

        “At least Mars is a more likely place for the human race to take up a second residence.” wronged Ron.

        Except it’s not. Luna is much more likely for the simple reason that humna have not only been thre- went their first and it is much closer to the Home Planet for resupply and hardware development. And gor a NewSpace, Reaganesque, pro-business sort like you, your metrics for attempting to justify ROI is pretty skewed. But then, you are still waiting for any minimal ROI to justify the $100-plus billion cost for ISS, arent you, Ron.

        • Coastal Ron

          DCSCA whined:

          Except it’s not.

          Except it is.

          If we’re going to go somewhere to live, then living on a “planet” and not a “Moon” is much better, especially since Mars has far more gravity, far more surface space, and has some semblance of an atmosphere.

          As NASA’s Gerstenmaier stated at the hearing, and what is repeated by everyone, Mars is the goal.

          humna have not only been thre-

          No wonder you say “Except it’s not” so much – apparently that’s all you know how to spell…

          • DCSCA

            “As NASA’s Gerstenmaier stated….”

            He’s shuttle era mamagement deadwood and trying to survive to retirement. He’ll be gone by the next administration.

            Mext stop for long term human habitation, Luna. It’s logical. and it is inevitable.

            • Coastal Ron

              DCSCA mumbled:

              He’s [Gerstenmaier] shuttle era mamagement deadwood

              Apparently you are not aware that unless someone was hired at NASA during the past year, EVERYONE at NASA is Shuttle era.

              Jeez, you can be dense.

              Mext stop for long term human habitation…

              Mexico? Certainly warmer, but you still won’t get any votes out of the Republicans in the Senate. ;-)

              Instead of blathering incoherently maybe you should invest a small amount of time and learn how to type…

      • E.P. Grondine

        ROI for impact prevention is pretty easy. Just take the Future Value of Everything and convert it to a Present Value.

        If you want to get more technical, you can take the value of continents, regions, and areas, estimate the possiblility of their being destroyed, adjust for time (because without anything being done the possibility of their destruction is 1, its just a question of when) and then convert that to a present value. Plug in any sum for Investment you want.

        The Bottom Line is that however you want to fiddle with those numbers, the ROIs are impressive. For that matter, the ROIs for improving those ROI estimates are impressive.

        (Years ago I actually etimated the value of my time per minute, but the numbers have changed since then, with the ROI rising, but the number of minutes per day has been falling severely. So those estimates will not be updated here.)

    • And one puts numbers to the return on basic research…how?

      • E.P. Grondine

        Hi FG –

        As pure research sscientists rarely address those questions, the field is not well developed. They do what they do largely because they enjoy doing it, and for some reaason unknown to them society has estimated that as being useful.

        In medicine, biology, and geology those questions are considered, as the results in those fields are fairly immediate and direct.

        The first problem you have to tackle is Interpersonal Utility Mapping, overcoming the constrainsts of Arrow’s Possibility Theorem. Doing that allows you to use rough dollar amounts for your estimates. (The reasons those techniques are not well developed has a lot to do with politics.)

        Next, you look at the knowledge in terms of technologies and resources. It is hard to quantify those. For example, the value of Mars’ resources depends on transportation costs, which depends upon engine technologies, which depends on fundamental engineering knowledge, which in turn, and so on and so on…

        ISS research presents a good example of this kind of estimation problem. How much is improved knowledge of materials and processes worth? It is tough to go beyond the general statement that earlier research has always resulted in improvment in the standard of living, and increase in total utility.

        Another problem is the conversion of knowledge into technologies. Often NASA has just left expensive data sets set, without extracting their full value, favoring instead the acquisition of new data sets.

        Another way of trying to rank projects is by the questions they address, and the bearing of those on current problems facing mankind. And of course then there is research into identifying those problems that no one knew mankind had.

        Given that most people will never leave the Earth, by Interpersonal Utility Mapping the most valuable space research is that improving our understanding of the Earth.
        Whether those questions coneern weather, long term weather (climate), or geological processes (including impact), their return has to be pretty high.

        Ahead of that you have improvements of the technnolgies of immediate production, such as communication and data processing systems, but the question of applied versus ure research can be eliominated for this analysis, except to note that applied research comes ahead of “pure” research, if there is such a thing. (By this analysis, dealing with the problem of space junk is pretty high on the list. As is satisfying defense needs.)

        Well, as I noted at the start, most “pure” scientists rarely look at these questions. They run on their own joy juice which they produce by solving problems. And not having ever made that analysis, some of their own statements as to the value of their own work are pretty hilarious. As are the statements of many space “enthusiasts”.

  • E.P. Grondine

    Sorry, but how much were the cost overruns on the Next Gen Telescope and Curiosity?

  • Fred Willett

    The real problem with the demand to trim all accounts equally is that programs can not be trimmed just like that.
    Funding 90% of a rocket just doesn’t work. Funding 90% of a spacecraft doesn’t work either.
    You’re better to bite the bullet and defund something so that the rest of your projects can actually be completed.
    This means you need to rank your projects in order of importance.
    Now who wants to suggest what should get cut first?

  • Aberwys

    I’d say international collabs should be nixed for ROI reasons–they are a notorious drain on the system because of how our international collaborators do business and don’t lead to much.

    • Coastal Ron

      Aberwys said:

      …they are a notorious drain on the system because of how our international collaborators do business and don’t lead to much.

      Do you have any examples you’d like to share?

      And how does that affect ESA’s building the Service Module for the MPCV? Should NASA nix that too and just do without a Service Module?

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