Monday night marked the first anniversary of the successful landing of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover. While NASA celebrated the milestone with a recap of the mission’s accomplishments to date and plans for the future, one member of Congress used the anniversary to call attention to the funding squeeze the agency’s planetary science program is facing.
“[T]the amazing pictures and the public pronouncements hide an ugly truth — that the nation’s planetary science program has been under sustained attack from White House budget cutters and remains in jeopardy,” writes Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) in an op-ed in the Los Angeles Daily News published on its web site late yesterday. He notes these cuts are not solely due to sequestration or other budget-cutting efforts but instead “deficit hawks in the Office of Management and Budget have targeted specific parts of the NASA portfolio for disproportionate cuts, and none more so than arguably the most successful of all NASA’s recent achievements — planetary science.”
Schiff discusses recent efforts, including that by the House Appropriations Committee (Schiff is on the Commerce, Justice, and Science subcommittee, which funds NASA) to restore at least in part funding for planetary science. The House’s CJS appropriations bill would give planetary science just over $1.3 billion in 2014, with the Senate’s version offering a nearly identical amount. Both are $100 million higher than the administration’s request, but still well below the $1.5 billion planetary received in 2012. (Not mentioned in Schiff’s op-ed is that it’s still not clear how much planetary science has to spend in 2013: as of last week, there was still no approved operating plan for the agency with just two months left in the fiscal year.)
Schiff also addresses question on why planetary science should get this or any amount of funding in the current fiscal environment. “Plainly, the bureaucrats at OMB think the search for life on other planets to be an expensive, quixotic and dispensable activity,” he writes. “These missions preserve America’s edge in a host of technologies that are key to maintaining our global leadership. Profoundly important research and development and all the economic benefits it brings will be forsaken if we abandon the field.”