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House Committee on Science and Technology's Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Examines Key Challenges Confronting NASA's Space Science Program

Press Release From: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
Posted: Wednesday, May 2, 2007

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(Washington, DC) The U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology's Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics today received a sobering assessment of the outlook for NASA's space science programs from a distinguished panel of scientists. The scientists warned that recent and planned budgetary cutbacks are jeopardizing the future wellbeing of the nation's space science enterprise.

The hearing also marked the first Congressional testimony of Dr. Alan Stern, the newly installed Associate Administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. Dr. Stern outlined the recent accomplishments of the space science program and described the activities to be funded in NASA's FY 2008 budget request.

Subcommittee Chairman Mark Udall (D-CO) congratulated NASA's space science program on the accomplishments to date.

"We have witnessed a whole series of exciting events in recent months, whether it was the discovery of possible recent liquid water flows on Mars, stereo images of solar activity, or Nobel prizes awarded for research enabled by NASA's Cosmic Background Explorer," said Chairman Udall. "Those are just a few of the accomplishments of NASA's space science enterprise over the past several years. In short, NASA's space science programs are highly productive, exciting, and addressing compelling scientific questions."

However, Chairman Udall also cautioned, "The bad news is that while those accomplishments were enabled by the nation's past investments in NASA's science activities, the outlook for the needed future investments is not good if present trends are any indication."

There is considerable concern within the science community over the budgetary outlook for NASA's space science programs as well as over cuts that have made over the past few years to funding for university-based space research and for small- and medium-sized space science missions. For example, funding for Research and Analysis (R&A), which helps to enable scientific research and train the next generation of scientists and engineers, was cut by an average of 15 percent in FY 2007, with no real relief provided in the FY 2008 budget request.

As the Director of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Sciences at the University of Colorado, Dr. Daniel Baker explained today in his testimony before the Committee, "The R&A program was deeply cut, and no funding restorations are likely at present. The impact of these cuts will be felt for many years since R&A, Explorers, and Sub-orbital programs are key elements in capitalizing on the investments that have already been made and for attracting and training the next generation of space scientists and engineers."

Overall, NASA's Science Mission Directorate has had its out-year budget plan cut by a total of $4 billion by the Administration since the release of the FY 2005 budget request that accompanied the President's Vision for Space Exploration.

"At a time when NASA's science programs offer the promise of major advances in our understanding of the sun, our solar system, and the universe beyond, we risk doing long-term damage to the health of those programs if we are not careful. If we are going to ask our nation's space science program to undertake challenging and meaningful initiatives, we are going to need to provide the necessary resources," concluded Chairman Udall.

In addition to Dr. Stern and Dr. Baker, witnesses testifying before the Subcommittee today included Dr. Lennard Fisk, Chair, Space Studies Board, National Research Council; Dr. Garth Illingworth, Chair, Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee; and Dr. Joseph Burns, Vice Provost, Physical Sciences and Engineering, Cornell University.

The Subcommittee intends to continue its examination of the issues facing NASA's science programs in future hearings and oversight activities in the coming months.

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