Planetary Society Mounts Public Effort to Fight NASA Science Cuts

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Earlier this year the White House announced that it was going to dramatically cut a variety of science programs in order to keep NASA's various human spaceflight efforts on track. Many of these cuts were unprecedented in scope and amount - and many people in the space science community feel that these cuts were simply uncalled for.

The Planetary Society was quick and forceful in expressing its outrage at cuts in the Administration’s proposed FY 2007 budget when it was first announced earlier this year. At a press conference held during International Space Development Conference which opened today in Los Angeles, the Society's Executive Director Louis Friedman and TPS Vice President Bill Nye ("The Science Guy") addressed the issue.

Friedman noted that the society had actually been formed during a similar time 25 years ago when the White House sought to make drastic cuts in space science to help pay for the (then) new Space Shuttle program. In so doing the science community was told that this was only temporary and that the end result would be good for planetary science.

Flashing forward to today Friedman noted that the current White House is seeking to defer $3 billion in funds that had been taregted for space science toward paying for unexpected costs associated with the Space Shuttle’s post-Columbia return to flight activities. Such changes would "alter the direction of NASA in a major way - something that has not happened in 25 years." he noted.

Many times people who look at these disputes about budget priorities at NASA try and portray the argument (far too simplistically) as being one waged between advocates of robotic (unmanned) exploration and human spaceflight. According to Friedman, from the Society's perspective that simply is not the case. "We are not supporting robotic exploration as opposed to human spaceflight. We are strong supporters of the redirection of human spaceflight as spelled out in the President's vision."

Moreover, this is not simply an issue of trying to get Congress to take money from the Shuttle program and put it somewhere else. Friedman said that he felt that what really needs to happen is an effort to convince all parties that a focus on space science needs to be brought back to the implementation of the VSE. He said "we think that the Vision is being undermined. You cannot have a "vision" for space exploration without science."

Bill Nye spoke in firm agreement with Friedman but, owing to his background as a communicator and educator, focused on the larger issue of public education on science issues - especially a time when issues such as global warming beg for a greater understanding of science among the public.

In an effort to help bring this issue to the attention of Congress the society has mounted a "Save Our Science" (SOS) campaign. Included in this effort is a petition drive. Further information can be found at http://planetary.org/sos.

The members of the Planetary Society are not alone in expressing deep concerns about these proposed cuts. As this meeting got underway, by coincidence, just as a report was issued by the National Academy of Sciences. That report is blunt on the topic of funding for the things NASA wants to do - and what NASA should be doing. In a press release the NAS said "NASA does not have the resources necessary to maintain a vigorous science program, complete the International Space Station, and return humans to the moon, says a new congressionally mandated report from the National Academies' National Research Council. "There is a mismatch between what NASA has been assigned to do and the resources with which it has been provided," said Lennard A. Fisk, chair of the committee that wrote the report."

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