NASA Agrees to Reexamine Allocation

WASHINGTON – Leading experts in space science and earth science told the House Science Committee today that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) proposed fiscal year (FY) 2007 budget cuts the science programs that need continued funding the most, while continuing projects that are of a lower priority. 

The scientists also argued that the overall proposed budget for science at NASA was too low and would set a pattern that would make it difficult to attract and retain space and earth scientists. 

In response to a question from Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), the scientists said that, if NASA did not get more money for science than it has proposed, then NASA should first preserve smaller scientific missions and research funding rather than setting aside funds for large, flagship missions.  They said the smaller missions and research funding were more important to the continued health of their fields.  The expert in earth science said he would start by considering changing the requirements for Landsat if no more funding were available.

Dr. Mary Cleave, the NASA Associate Administrator for Science, pledged to review the FY 2007 budget proposal for each science division in light of recommendations from the scientific community.

The four scientists who testified were each involved in one of the decadal surveys – periodic efforts organized by the National Academy of Sciences in which scientists determine the priorities in each of the fields funded by NASA.  Those fields are planetary sciences, astrophysics, heliophysics and earth sciences.    

In opening the hearing, Boehlert said, “Both NASA and the Congress need to have a better understanding of how to balance whatever cuts are made to ensure the future of space science and earth science.  What we need to understand is what would be lost if more money does not go to science and, again, even more importantly what we should do if more money is not available or if only a little more money is available.  I say that as a strong supporter of NASA’s science programs.  I see science as the most successful aspect of NASA, one that expands the human mind, excites students, pushes technology, provides vital information about our own planet, and helps make the U.S. a world leader.  I want to do everything in my power to protect NASA science.” 

Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) stated, “NASA Administrator Griffin is overseeing a delicate balance of the programs within his portfolio.  Although the Administration is operating in a tight budget environment, in FY 2007, NASA did receive a small increase over the FY 2006 level.   Now that the Congress has legislated its endorsement for the Vision for Space Exploration in our NASA Authorization of 2005, we must begin funding this program and its Crew Exploration Vehicle at an efficient level.  We are all aware of the need to keep our Nation competitive – NASA is an important part of the investment that our country must make to keep us at the leading edge.  While available resources allow the Science programs at NASA to be funded at only a 1.5% increase, this important sector of NASA’s budget is still about one-third of its total budget.”

In their testimony today, the community representatives said NASA’s FY 2007 budget proposal – which would increase spending for the Science Mission Directorate by 1.5 percent in FY 2007 and projects annual increases of one percent for the mission’s budget through 2011 – would have a seriously negative impact on the agency’s core science missions.  The witness cited particular concern over proposed cuts to NASA’s Research and Analysis (R&A) account, which funds smaller-scale, competitive Explorer missions and provides funds to scientists to perform research on data collected by NASA’s various missions.     

“[S]evere reductions in the flight rate of NASA’s Explorer line of smaller, lower cost missions will be damaging to the field and particularly its ability to attract and retain younger talent,” said Dr. Joseph Taylor, Co-Chairman of the decadal survey for Astrophysics.  “The Explorer satellites have been extremely cost effective and have often been an entry point for younger researchers into mission development and project management.”  Taylor is also the James S. McDonald Distinguished University Professor for Physics at Princeton University.

“These programs also are especially valuable for training students, at both the undergraduate and the graduate level, who will likely play a vital role in the NASA space exploration initiative or join the larger workforce as capable scientists, engineers, or managers who cut their teeth on rigorous problems,” said Dr. Fran Bagenal, a member of the Decadal Survey for Sun-Earth Connections (now Heliophysics) and Professor of Atmospheric and Space Physics.

Dr. Berrien Moore, Co-Chairman of the Decadal Survey for Earth Sciences and University Distinguished Professor at the University of New Hampshire, added, “The cuts to Earth science in research and analysis are just disastrous.”

Citing the possibility that little new money may be available for NASA in FY 2007, Chairman Boehlert asked the science community witnesses if they would be willing to scale-back or delay their flagship programs in favor of the R&A projects within their respective fields. 

“If there is no change from this budget, then my answer is ‘yes,'” said Dr. Wesley Huntress, Jr., a member of the Decadal Survey for Solar System Exploration (now Planetary Science) and Director of the Geophysical Laboratory at the Carnegie Institution of Washington.  “Consistent with the decadal survey, the priorities in the program under stress are first, research program, second, technology program, third, small missions, fourth, medium missions, and last, flagship missions.”

Bagenal told the Committee that she too would support a delay in the Heliophysics flagship, the Solar Dynamics Observatory.  “I would certainly argue for smaller research and analysis programs to be supported over the possible delay of a flagship,” she said. 

“If no new resources can be added, we’re in a tough situation and reassessment needs to be made about the levels of funding that are going into two things: both the Hubble Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope [the flagship missions in Astrophysics],” Taylor stated.  He added that, while he couldn’t speak for his entire community, he personally would support delay in the flagship program in support of additional R&A funding.

Moore told the Committee that the flagship program in Earth Sciences, the Global Precipitation Measurement mission, has already been delayed repeatedly, but said that he would be willing to consider additional delay to save the smaller R&A Earth Science programs.  “The cuts to R&A have got to be turned around.  This is really damaging,” he testified.