Issue 19-20, May 23, 2019
- MESSAGE FROM THE AAS PRESIDENT AND DPS CHAIR: MOON – 2024?
MESSAGE FROM THE AAS PRESIDENT AND DPS CHAIR: MOON – 2024 ?
Vice-President Pence recently announced the Administration’s goal of returning
US astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024. The NASA plan is nicknamed “Artemis.”
Last week the Administration delivered to Congress an amendment to its initially
proposed fiscal year (FY) 2020 budget to reflect this ambitious new goal.
The budget amendment contained proposals to add a total of $1.6 billion to
NASA’s FY20 budget, offset by reductions to the Pell Grant program in the
Department of Education. The amendment also contained a proposal to give
the NASA Administrator the authority to transfer funds between appropriations
accounts “…in the event that the Administrator determines that the transfers are
necessary in support of establishment of a U.S. strategic presence on the Moon.”
The proposed reductions to the Pell Grant program are certainly a concern for
any organization that cares about the training of current and future generations
of researchers and educators in our disciplines. There will be fierce opposition
in Congress to this proposed budgetary offset.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has publicly stated on at least a couple of
occasions that it doesn’t make sense to cut science programs to achieve human
exploration goals — mostly because Congress is opposed to such moves — and
we take him at his word. However, this initial $1.6 billion augmentation is only a
down payment, and some outside experts have put the likely additional annual
funding augmentation need closer to $4-8 billion. While trimming science programs
won’t come close to filling such budgetary holes, the proposed transfer authority
is an item for serious concern should push come to shove in achieving the 2024 goal.
One reason for this concern is that such transfers and communications to Congress
about them take place in the shadows, outside of the sunshine of the normal public
Congressional appropriations process.
In addition to the Administration’s already-proposed Lunar Discovery and Exploration
Program (LDEP) — which the House Appropriations Committee appears to be on
track to support — the new $1.6 billion amendment allocates $90 million to NASA’s
Science Mission Directorate (SMD) “for the purchase of commercial services to
deliver a rover to…explore the Moon’s polar regions in advance of a human mission.”
Since the changes in civilian space policy to return to the Moon have occurred
in 2018, there is not a community-wide consensus on where the Administration’s
proposed lunar science program would rank within the relative priorities for lunar
science, let alone within the priorities for the overall planetary science enterprise.
The primary new lunar mission prioritized by the 2013 planetary decadal was the
Lunar Geophysical Network (recommended for inclusion in the fifth New Frontiers
competition). The 2013 survey also reaffirmed the 2003 survey’s Lunar South Pole-
Aitken Basin Sample Return mission for the fifth New Frontiers competition since
it wasn’t selected in the fourth New Frontiers round.
The current astronomy and astrophysics decadal survey is likely to consider lunar
far-side project proposals, and the upcoming planetary science decadal survey will
certainly need to consider the changes to civil space policy and commercial spaceflight
capabilities as they impact the survey committee’s holistic approach to prioritizing
lunar and planetary research. In the meantime the LDEP program within SMD
appears to be doing an admirable job of finding synergies between efforts to
kick-start a lunar commercial services industry and solid peer-reviewed science
investigations and payloads, while adhering to science priorities described in the
2013 planetary decadal survey.
What Are the AAS and DPS Doing?
We have decided against taking an official position on NASA’s Artemis proposal
at this time. It is still very early, and we do not think that the benefits of public
opposition to an ill-defined and untested proposal outweigh the use of political
capital, at least not yet. We are clearly opposed to the Pell Grant offset on principle,
and we have serious concerns about the proposed transfer authority and the as-yet
undefined scientific content of the proposed crewed Artemis lunar program. The
House Appropriations Committee responsible for NASA is working toward a 7%
increase for NSF and a 4% increase for NASA SMD in FY20, which is a reassuring
sign of their continued strong support for space sciences.
We will, however, have the AAS public-policy staff informally present our concerns
— Pell Grant offset, transfer authority, and lack of community consensus on the science
program — to relevant Congressional and Executive Branch staff. A Congressional Hill
visit by the AAS Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) Committee on May 10th
preemptively delivered the core of this message, which was well received. If
evolving circumstances require the AAS to take a strong public position for or
against what NASA proposes or does, we will not hesitate to do so.
As always, we welcome your comments and/or concerns about the AAS and
DPS approach to advocating on your behalf.
Send submissions to:
Anne Verbiscer, DPS Secretary ([email protected])
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