Message From DPS Leadership

Dear DPS 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. We have yet to see, however, how top officials at NASA will handle this $223M restoration in light of sequestration cuts required by the FY13 budget authorization bill HR933. What is ominous for the planetary science budget is that the NASA Administrator has repeatedly and publicly stated NASA’s top priorities, and they do not include planetary science. The discussion about sequestration of the FY13 budget is happening right now within Washington, so now is when you should weigh in with your voice.

On Wednesday, 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 level from FY15 through FY18.

The DPS 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 appears to receive an $8M increase in FY14 compared to FY12, and remain flat for the out-years. Funding would be provided to the Discovery Program which may enable advancement of the next AO to FY14. Funding is identified for Pu-238 production. Many other elements of the NASA planetary program, however, 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-dark” in FY17 when the Juno New Frontiers mission is terminated. Funds would be provided only to support NASA’s small contributions to ESA’s JUICE mission. Cassini might be shut down in FY15.

The Mars program is cut $353M in FY14 compared with FY12. NASA might be able to operate the current on-going Mars missions, launch and operate MAVEN and InSight, and implement a Mars 2020 rover mission, but nothing else. One concern is that while the total funding requested for the Mars 2020 rover mission seems adequate, the funding profile is heavily “back-loaded” meaning the bulk of the funds would be provided in the last two years. Lessons learned from past missions show back-funded missions to be at high risk of cost over-run.

The technology program would be cut by $11M in FY14 compared to the FY12 funding level, and of the remainder, $50M per year will be transferred by NASA to the DOE for their infrastructure for Pu-238 production. This represents an aggregate loss of $61M for technology for future missions.

The proposed changes to NASA’s Education and Public Outreach (EPO) activities are not well understood. The DPS remains committed to sharing our planetary research with the world. It is widely acknowledged that NASA science missions provide an unprecedented opportunity to inspire, engage, and educate students of all ages and backgrounds in fundamental science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) concepts. When education activities are embedded within NASA missions, the result is a productive, efficient, and intimate partnership between scientists and education experts. When NASA’s EPO is tied directly to each specific mission, it is not redundant with other agencies’ activities. The DPS strongly supports mission-related EPO activity.

The DPS awaits more information about the human-spaceflight program focused on asteroid retrieval. We note that the planetary decadal survey explicitly stated that “robotic and human exploration of space should be synergistic … however, this effort must proceed without burdening the space science budget or influencing its process of peer-reviewed selection of science missions.”

We hope to maintain the funding provided to planetary science by Congress in the FY13 HR933 budget act, and we hope to restore planetary science to the FY12 level during deliberations over the FY14 Budget.

We urge every member of the Division 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 plea 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 (http://www.planetary.org/get-involved/be-a-space-advocate/take-action/); you do not need to be a member of The Planetary Society to use their website.

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, and will be posted on our website.

Rosaly Lopes, DPS Chair
Heidi Hammel, DPS Vice-Chair

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 a few days ago, the Administration 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 send an ominous message 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. 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.

Respectfully yours,

[signed]