I would like to take this opportunity to clarify [the March 17 profile “Artel Keeps Its Options Open After Declining Merger,” page 22] that Artel maintains a cooperative relationship with the fixed satellite operator community and it was not my intent to imply that FSS [fixed satellite services] operators over charge the government for commercial satellite services. Moreover, on the whole, the operators maintain highly trained and professional satellite engineers. Artel works closely with the satellite operators to develop creative and timely commercial satellite solutions to support the warfighter.
Chief Executive Officer, Artel Inc.
The recent hearing held by the House Science and Technology subcommittee only addressed one aspect of NASA’s science programs, its budget. There wasn’t enough funding in the past, and the current request falls far short of what is needed. The other aspect, what should be NASA’s priorities in science to accommodate the limited budget, was danced around never fully vetted.
This last aspect is the most important. NASA must live with its annual appropriation, whatever it is, and the probability of receiving a big increase for science is vanishingly small. Toward the end of the hearing Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R- Calif.) asked the right question: “How did NASA justify spending $3 million a year on NEO [near Earth object] research while spending $500 million searching for planets around distant stars?” Rohrbacher went on to discuss the well-known fact that meteors had struck the Earth in the past. Asclepius, came very close to hitting Earth in 1989, and the asteroid Apophis is scheduled for a close encounter in 2029.
Whether or not you believe NEO research should have a high priority, it is clear that NASA budget priorities have been skewed to include some low priority programs – for example, the recently announced selection of three new lunar missions that will take measurements for which high-quality data already exists or will be collected by other nation’s spacecraft. The hit on NASA’s budgets for these three missions will probably exceed $1 billion by the time they are launched and data is collected and analyzed.
How can this problem be avoided? Decadal surveys conducted by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council are very useful and include priority lists of space science programs. However, each is written for a specific science discipline and no overall priority list is included. This allows NASA to take one from column one, and another from column two with the result that an overall strategy disappears. To make matters worse, NASA deviates from the surveys. None of the three lunar missions were included in the 2002 National Research Council report “New Frontiers in the Solar System, A Integrated Exploration Strategy.” The more recent 2006 report, “An Assessment of Balance in NASA’s Science Programs,” addressed the priority issue but did so with a velvet glove. Congress must take a firmer hand and ask the National Academy of Sciences to develop an overall priority list, or NASA and the science community will continue to be at odds as to how it spends its limited budget.