Although NASA accepted last month a recommendation by a senior review panel not to continue the Spitzer Space Telescope, NASA and the astronomy community are working on ways to continue the mission at a reduced funding level by freeing up funds elsewhere in the astrophysics program.
“We have invited the Spitzer program to submit a reclama—that’s an appeal—to us as an overguide as part of our budget formulation process” for fiscal year 2016, said Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s astrophysics division, at a NASA town hall during the 224th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Boston on Monday. That proposal will be considered this summer as the agency prepares to submit a budget request to the White House.
Hertz indicated that any proposal to continue Spitzer operations, even at a reduced funding level (NASA requested $14.2 million for the program for fiscal year 2015) would have to be paid for from elsewhere in the astrophysics budget. “Asking for new money is not part of my phase space,” he said. “In order to consider Spitzer, we have to spend less money on something else we were planning to do.”
Hertz said he has asked the various scientific advisory committees involved in the astrophysics program for suggestions on what could potentially be reduced in order to free up funds for Spitzer. “I’ve received a lot of input on that,” he said, adding that process of soliciting ideas was continuing. “There’s a relatively small number of places where NASA astrophysics is spending money and where we could spend less to continue Spitzer.”
“It doesn’t make me happy to be here talking to you about these kinds of decisions,” he said, “but unfortunately, in an era where our budget is constrained, we can only continue some fraction of the things we would like to be doing. We have to prioritize in some manner.”
The news is perhaps a little more optimistic for SOFIA, the airborne observatory whose future was placed in doubt in the administration’s 2015 budget request. The Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) appropriations bill passed by the House last week includes $70 million for SOFIA, about 80 percent of the program’s current budget but far above the $12 million requested to mothball the observatory. Hertz said after the town hall meeting that NASA is looking at what implications the House figure would have on SOFIA operations in terms of flight rates and other activities.