When President Obama spoke Monday at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, to mark that institution’s sesquicentennial, space got only the briefest of cameos in his address, and even that managed to rub some scientists and space activists the wrong way. “Today, all around the country, scientists like you are developing therapies to regenerate damaged organs, creating new devices to enable brain-controlled prosthetic limbs, and sending sophisticated robots into space to search for signs of past life on Mars,” he said.
That reference to Mars exploration comes as the administration’s fiscal year 2014 budget proposal for NASA would seek again to fund the agency’s planetary sciences program at approximately $1.2 billion, down from the $1.5 billion it received in 2012. The administration sought a similar cut in 2013 but had it partially restored by Congress, although some worry NASA will reprogram some of that additional funding when it submits an operating plan to Congress by the end of next week.
Those proposed cuts got the attention of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), which singled them out as an area of concern in a statement the organization of professional astronomers released on Tuesday. “The AAS is deeply concerned about the Administration’s renewed proposal to cut NASA’s Planetary Science Division.” the statement reads. “At this level, the budget precludes a major mission to any planet other than Mars after 2017, and precludes exploration of Europa, a high priority for the planetary science community.” The organization asks the White House and Congress “to find a path forward that maintains U.S. leadership in planetary science, rather than ceding future exploration of our solar system to other nations,” without offering more details about what it thinks that solution should be.
The AAS also brought up other issues with the NASA budget proposal, including changes to education and public outreach efforts that are part of a larger STEM education restructuring proposed by the administration, as well as the “relatively low priority” for research and analysis grant funding. “The restructuring proposal is certain to dismantle the strategic networks and infrastructure that have been carefully built over many years,” the AAS warned of the administration’s education plans, while reductions in research funding “will result in an overall program that is unbalanced toward large facilities without allocating the research and training resources necessary to exploit those facilities’ full scientific potential.”