Newsletter 12-21

Issue 12-21, September 6, 2012


This has been a pretty good summer for Planetary Science. NASA has delivered the goods in the form of the spectacular success of the Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity rover landing, and the continued achievements of Cassini, DAWN, Kepler, and MESSENGER to name a few. The DPS membership was very effective in getting the attention of Congress to restore the NASA planetary exploration budget. In April the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees added significant funding to the President’s budget request. Bipartisan support for planetary science was strongly in evidence in all our interactions with Congress. But we are a long way from being out of the woods. This will be a complicated legislative year (it is a presidential election year after all) and we will need more e-mails and letters to Congress before the budget is finalized.

Right now the problem is the Administration in the form of Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Office of Science Technology Policy (OSTP). These organizations give NASA direction for future planning and that direction is currently requiring major budget cuts over the next five years. Planetary exploration requires multi-year planning and commitments. While Congress can give planetary exploration extra money on a year-by-year basis, the OMB five-year planning budget can hamstring NASA’s execution of any Congressionally-enhanced planetary program. We need to engage OMB and OSTP and push for the inclusion of five-year budget planning levels up to or above the FY12 level of $1.5B. This level is required to achieve the goals within the range of Decadal Survey priorities.

We are coordinating this effort with calls from the Planetary Society and Planetary AGU to send a consistent message to the Administration to do what the President promised to the Curiosity team, that is to provide the resources necessary to continue exploring the solar system. Attached to this call are contact details for the key OMB and OSTP executives that need to hear our message, a suggested letter, and a set of talking points. All of this information will also be posted on the DPS federal relations subcommittee website.

What to do: Send physical letters to the directors of OMB and OSTP with copies to their subordinates that handle NASA budget planning. The time to do this is now. OMB and OSTP are currently assembling their recommendations for the FY14 budget and the planning levels for the next five years. At the very minimum we can all afford 20 minutes to generate the e-mails necessary to contact these officials. If the DPS as a group does that, we will have a powerful impact on the budget process. As I said before about Congressional letters, if we do not act, we will be ignored. Without our advocacy these draconian budget cuts will stand and this golden age of planetary exploration will end. Let’s get busy!

Example OMB/OSTP Letter:
Jeffery Zients: Acting Director, OMB address letters to him and cc the others
Sally Ericsson
Dr. Paul Shawcross
Joydip Kundu

The Office of Management and Budget
725 17th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20503


Dr. John Holdren: Director, OSTP address letters to him and cc the others
John Olson
Dr. Tamara Dickinson

Office of Science and Technology Policy

Executive Office of the President

725 17th Street, Room 5228

Washington, DC 20502

Dear ___________________
President Obama called NASA’s Curiosity rover team shortly after their successful landing on Mars and congratulated them:
“We’re fortunate to be part of a society that can reach beyond our planet and explore frontiers that were only imagined by our ancestors… I’m going to give you guys my personal commitment to protect the investments that have been made in science and technology.”
America is the world’s universally acknowledged leader in the exploration of our solar system, as the unique accomplishments of Curiosity demonstrate. No other nation on Earth can realistically attempt a mission of exploration as technically complex and as awe-inspiring as Curiosity. The whole world watched in admiration as America landed a large, long-duration roving laboratory on the inhospitable surface of Mars, as they continue admire the achievements of NASA and our international partners in the continuing exploration of Mercury and the Saturnian system with the MESSENGER and Cassini spacecraft, and look forward to discoveries at Pluto, Jupiter, Ceres, and throughout the solar system in the near future.
Yet this renown is challenged by the Administration’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2013 and beyond, which would eliminate funding for any new flagship-class planetary science missions and dramatically reduce the cadence of focused Discovery and New Frontiers missions.
Under such a budget, America’s leadership in planetary exploration will be threatened. America’s youth will be deprived of a powerful source of inspiration to seek careers in science and engineering. America’s industrial base will be deprived of a stimulus to advance its technological capabilities to unprecedented heights. These two consequences will be detrimental to the future prosperity and security of the United States.
The Administration’s proposed budget fails to implement the plans set out in the recent US National Research Council (NRC) Planetary Decadal Survey. Moreover, it fails to live up to the President’s heartfelt commitment to the Curiosity team to continue exploring the endless frontier and to support investments in science and technology. I respectfully urge you to restore the modest investment that is required for NASA to continue to lead the way in solar system exploration.

[Your Name and Address]

Talking Points:
• Planetary science activities provide an excellent value to the taxpayer and provide a strong return on investment
• We are in the middle of a major revolution in the understanding of the origin and evolution to the solar system and if there is life beyond Earth.
• The planetary science community came together in 2009-2010 to decide on the set of priorities for the 2013-2022 time period, identifying the most important science questions in the discipline and the most effective ways of answering those questions in a realistic way given the resources available. The Planetary Decadal Survey lays out a plan for the next decade with solid community support.
• Congress, by its House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittee actions in April 2012, has shown strong support for a vigorous US planetary exploration program.
• The Administration’s 5-year planning budget for planetary exploration is strongly at variance with the program laid out in the Decadal Survey and the clear budgetary guidance given by Congress in the April 2012 actions. The 5-year planning budget does not allow Decadal Survey priorities to be implemented, prevents NASA from planning to funding levels that Congress has shown they are willing to support, and greatly delays future exploration. This planning constraint will force NASA to back away from American leadership in solar system exploration.
• Current planning by the Administration for FY13 does not contemplate a restoration of funds by Congress to the level proposed by the House ($1.4B) or a complete restoration to FY12 levels for planetary exploration ($1.5), which has been mentioned as a possibility by some members of Congress. Failure of the Administration to do plan for a positive scenario will undermine the benefit of such Congressional action.
• The Administration’s 5-year planning budget gravely damages the US Mars program. Only the US has the technical capability to land on Mars which is critical for all robotic surface explorations and for future human exploration. We must find way to regularly return to Mars with small competed missions to maintain our capabilities and build on our accomplishments.
• The major planned reduction in planetary exploration will abrogate the search for past or perhaps even current life in the solar system just at the point in human history that we have acquired to ability to search for and find it.
• The outer solar system is in grave danger of going “radio dark” in 2017, when the very successful Cassini mission ends. Outer solar system missions require many years of lead time to plan and execute, and no outer solar system missions are currently planned beyond 2017.
• Several moons of the outer solar system including Europa may have water oceans and the “ingredients” required for life. By exploring these worlds, we can address one of the most important questions in all of science: Is there life beyond Earth?
• In direct response to the planetary Decadal Survey, less expensive mission options have been defined to explore Jupiter’s moon Europa. Paradigm-changing outer solar system science can be accomplished within a cost-constrained planetary program.
• Planetary science discoveries are a major motivation for students pursuing the Science, Engineering, Technology, and Mathematics (STEM) careers that propel the U.S. forward.
• NASA has been working closely with our international partners to development joint missions that lower the overall cost to US taxpayers. Budget cuts have ended our participation in two Mars missions with ESA and seriously endanger participation in ESA’s JUICE outer solar system mission.
• Innovative technologies developed for space have broader utility and impact that benefits all of society.
The Administration’s 5-year planning budget for NASA planetary exploration should be restored to and maintained at levels consistent with the planetary Decadal Survey recommendations and NASA should be directed to:
• Increment the Research & Data Analysis program by 5% relative to FY 2011.
• Fund technology development programs at 7-9% of the Planetary Division budget.
• Continue to fully fund those missions returning high-value science data.
• Restore the “Discovery” program to a 24 month cadence and New Frontiers to a cadence of two missions per decade.
• Select one of the recommended flagship missions to Mars or the Outer Planets.