Lobbying, NASA, White House

Astronomers warn about NASA planetary funding cuts

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.”

2 comments to Astronomers warn about NASA planetary funding cuts


    “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…”

    This should surprise nobody.

    He has no interest in space; cannot wrestle support in Congress for legislation for evn the most basic initiatives he supports and does not like the give and take of thep olticcal process.

    But it should comfort everybody that Romney would have been worse.

    This is a period of free drift for the space agency and a rare moment of transition when clearing out outdated management types and clarifying a rationale for HSF ops in the 21st century is essential. Add a measured mix of government and commercial balanced with cost-effective, throw-away planetary probes which should be getting cheaper, not more expensive and the future looks fair even an era of flat budgets and austerity materializes. Mr. Obama has no interst in space. HRC does. And in her administration, 21st century space ops will get direction- nd support.

  • Heinrich Monroe

    The NASA budget that came out of this administration is pretty flat, and generally consistent with the real dollar commitments from previous administrations, going way back. So it’s a bit odd to say that he has “no interest in space”. He’s sure not beating the hustings for it, as W did with his VSE (a husting beating that he never properly funded, and never even referred to later on), but he’s also sure not pillaging space.

    The decision by the administration to cut planetary science is offset by his increase in Astrophysics (which has been eaten alive by JWST), and heliophysics. So the deep concern from the AAS (which is largely an astrophysics community), is a bit funny. The AAS wants to see itself as a professional organization that uniquely represents planetary science, which it largely is not.

    But this is definitely a period of “free drift” in NASA, largely because of the need to clarify rationale for HSF. The proposed budget stability of that freely drifting part of NASA is what should concern people.

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