Message From The Chair: Future Of The Planetary Budget

I wanted to relay to you a brief note on the budget situation.  The NASA Planetary Science budget has recovered from the hard times in 2013 and 2014 when we suffered a 20% cut in the President’s proposed budget. But even though Earth Science and Planetary Science had nearly the same enacted budget back in 2006, this past year PSD got $1.631B and Earth Science was up at $1.931. We want to grow the Planetary budget by increasing the topline numbers, not by cannibalizing other science programs. 

And with our strong support from Congress, continued Planetary budget increases are entirely within the realm of possiblility. The new House language mandates a 2022 Europa Clipper launch and a 2024 launch of a Europa Lander, and puts its money where its mouth is by allocating $260M for Europa. But the disconnect between the legislative branch and the executive branch is making for an inefficient way forward.

Congress has consistently supported Planetary Science over and above Presidential budget requests in recent years.  But the disconnect between enacted budgets and executive future budget runouts leads to a less than optimal use of money from an efficiency standpoint.  To illustrate the issue, we’ve put together this graph of requested and projected versus enacted budgets (real-year dollars, not inflation adjusted) since 2013: These projections force NASA to plan assuming that it will get less money in the future, when its nearly certain that Congress will pass higher numbers.  These low projections make it hard to, for instance, plan for Europa Clipper’s development or choose a healthy number of competed missions. 

This administration has made it clear that Planetary Science is not their priority.But a new administration will come into the picture for the next budget cycle.  Hopefully their outlook will be more in tune with that of Congress and supportive for us, whoever it is that ends up in the White House in 2017.

Jason W. Barnes
DPS Chair