Save Planetary Science
Dear AGU Planetary Science Section members,
Last year, the administration proposed a FY13 Budget Request for NASA’s Planetary Science Division that was $309M less than the FY12 approved operating plan. Recently, Congress voted -- and the President approved -- a restoration of $223M to NASA’s FY13 budget for planetary exploration. How top officials at NASA will handle this $223M restoration in light of the sequestration cuts also required this FY remains to be seen. Sequestration could be applied disproportionately to planetary. Sequestration decisions are currently being made in Washington, so now is when we should weigh in with our voices.
On April 10, the President’s FY14 Budget Request was released. It continues the same cuts to NASA’s planetary science program that were proposed in last year's FY13 Budget Request. The FY14 request is almost $300M less than the FY12 approved operating plan. Funding for planetary science would remain virtually flat at that low level from FY15 through FY18.
The AGU PS leadership participated in a careful analysis of the planetary science funding in the FY14 Budget Request. There is some good news: the Research and Analysis (R&A) program receives an $8M increase in FY14 compared to FY12. Funding would be provided to the Discovery Program to enable advancement of the next AO to FY14. Funding is identified for Pu-238 production. The NEO search effort would be beefed up to support the President’s proposed asteroid retrieval initiative. However, many other elements of the NASA planetary program suffer.
The Europa Clipper pre-project study funded by Congress in FY13 has no future according to the FY14 Budget Request. The Outer Solar System would go “radio-quiet” in FY17 when Cassini and the Juno New Frontiers missions end. Funds would be provided only to support NASA’s modest contributions to ESA’s JUICE mission. And Cassini might be shut down in FY15. Equally worrying, sequestration could easily lead to early termination of other productive extended missions.
The Mars program is cut $353M in FY14 compared with FY12. NASA should be able to operate the current on-going Mars missions, launch and operate MAVEN and InSight, and implement a Mars 2020 rover mission, if the Mars Program is not reduced by sequestration. However, while the total funding requested for the Mars 2020 rover mission seems adequate, the bulk of the funds would be provided in the last two years. This is a very risky strategy, as past missions have taught us that such "back-loaded" funding profiles almost inevitably generate substantial cost over-runs. Also, the PS technology program would be cut by $11M in FY14 compared to the FY12 funding level, and it is this technology that enables future missions.
The AGU Planetary Sciences Executive Committee believes that the funding provided to planetary science by Congress in the FY13 HR933 budget act should be maintained. Furthermore, we advocate restoring planetary science to the FY12 level during deliberations over the FY14 Budget. This budget level is affordable and fiscally prudent, and as we have stated before, will allow our great nation to maintain a balanced (and astonishingly productive!) program of planetary exploration, as recommended by the NRC Planetary Science Decadal Survey.
We urge every (US) member of the AGU Planetary Sciences section to write letters to your two senators and your representative expressing: (1) your thanks for the past support of Congress; (2) your concern about the sequester and the implications of the President’s FY14 Budget Request for the FY13 budget and all later years; and (3) your argument for continued support from Congress.
Please write to your senators and representative today. A hand-written letter, faxed to your representative, is best. You can also use the website provided by The Planetary Society to send your own letter or their letter, which you can edit; you do not need to be a member of The Planetary Society to use their website. (Please note that civil servants and many contractors are legally barred from writing letters to Congress during work time and using institutional resources. In these cases, please write letters on your own time, using a home return address. If you are uncertain, check with your employer and err on the side of caution).
To influence the FY13 NASA operating plan and the FY14 budget, the time to act is now. Please support planetary science and do not delay. A sample letter is given below.
Bill McKinnon, AGU PS President
Lindy Elkins-Tanton, AGU PS President-elect
Dear Senator or Representative [fill in your senator or representative’s name]
I write to you with great concern regarding the future of NASA's Planetary Science Program. The Administration's FY2014 budget proposal, if enacted, would continue to cut our inspirational, unique, and affordable program of solar system exploration. I ask that Congress once again reject this cut and fund NASA's Planetary Science Division at $1.5 billion this year.
Last year, the Administration's FY13 budget proposed a devastating 21% cut to NASA's Planetary Science Division, which builds and manages all of NASA’s robotic spacecraft that explore the solar system, including the extremely popular Curiosity rover on Mars and the Cassini spacecraft currently orbiting Saturn.
Congress rejected this cut, restoring much of the funds for the Planetary Science Division when it passed HR933 in March. I thank you and the rest of Congress. But with the proposed FY14 budget, the Administration has proposed cutting this program again, removing close to $300 million compared to the FY12 approved operating plan for NASA. This would cripple NASA’s ability to maintain the balanced program of planetary exploration as recommended by the National Research Council's Planetary Science Decadal Survey. Moreover, these cuts do not bode well regarding the Administration’s intent for using the funding that Congress voted to restore to NASA’s FY13 budget.
Some have said that planetary exploration is the crown jewel of our space program, a national treasure. Yet as other nations substantially expand their planetary exploration efforts, that of the U.S. is set to decline. I ask that you once again reject the Administration's proposal to cut this program. I ask that you help support the Planetary Science program at the level of $1.5 billion per year, which is the FY12 level without any adjustment for inflation. Planetary science missions represent less than 10% of the overall NASA budget of $17 billion dollars, yet are a highly visible and successful NASA activity.
With a restored budget of $1.5 billion for the planetary science division, NASA would have the resources available to achieve a balanced program of robust science. Its exciting, engaging missions represent the best of the American spirit of exploration and will yield discoveries to inspire the public.
Letter in Word Format
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