DPS Statement on FY2013 NASA Budget
The Golden Age of Planetary Exploration is in Grave Danger from Deep Cuts in the President’s Proposed Budget.
The planetary exploration program has delivered a golden age of robotic exploration of the Solar System that over the past decade that has included a long series of stunningly successful missions. Among many examples are the Mars rovers which have discovered that standing bodies of water once existed on Mars, indicating past habitable environments; the Cassini mission to Saturn which discovered water erupting from Saturn’s moon Enceladus, imaged previously unseen structure in the rings, and is mapping methane lakes and seas on Saturn’s moon Titan; MESSENGER which is now orbiting and mapping Mercury, revealing how terrestrial planets evolve; Dawn, which is orbiting and mapping the asteroid Vesta, revealing the earliest history of planet formation; and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and GRAIL which are orbiting our Moon exploring deeply into its structure and origins. Other low-cost missions have returned samples of a comet and the solar wind. These missions have revolutionized our understanding of Earth, its origins, and its place within the solar system and the larger universe. The planetary science program complements and extends the discoveries and breakthroughs in earth science, astrophysics, and heliophysics.
The Planetary Science community recently finished its Decadal Survey under the auspices of the National Research Council of the National Academies. Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022 recommends to NASA a program of balanced exploration and scientific analysis, tempered by fiscal realism, which builds on the immense progress of the last decade to continue expanding our understanding of our solar system, and search for evidence of past or even current life elsewhere in our solar system. The current golden age of planetary exploration — the result of years of effort by scientists and engineers supported at relatively low cost by a fascinated public and bipartisan political support — is in grave danger from deep budget cuts just as the next wave of discoveries beckons.
The President’s proposed Fiscal Year 2013 budget for NASA focuses almost all the Agency’s financial cuts onto the planetary science program. The Planetary Science Division budget falls in FY13 to $1.2 billion from a current $1.5 billion, a drop of 20%. These cuts will force NASA to cancel its plans for its most ambitious exploration missions, cancel collaborations with the European Space Agency (ESA) on the 2016 Mars Trace Gas Orbiter and the 2018 ExoMars rover, slash the Mars Exploration Program, cancel the Lunar Quest Program, delay the very successful Discovery and New Frontiers competitive programs, and force cuts in mission operations and data analysis for several current missions, reducing the science return on an investment already made by the taxpayers.
Implementation of the balanced, consensus, budget-conservative plan outlined in the Decadal Survey will not be possible under the President’s proposal. Reductions of this magnitude focused narrowly on planetary science indicate that NASA is stepping away from one of its most popular and successful programs. This is a program that rewrites the textbooks and cements American leadership in space science. This is a program that trains young Americans in science and engineering and enables America to dominate space science. This is a program that thrills and engages the public with a stream of pictures and discoveries from incredible new worlds. This program provides excellent value to America.
The Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society, the world’s largest professional association of planetary scientists, urges Congress to support and fund a vigorous planetary science program as recommended by the National Research Council. We strongly believe that the robotic exploration of the solar system resonates with the American people; it is something that NASA needs to be doing and doing exceptionally well, and it is something the American people will support even in tight budget times.