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House Science and Technology Subcommittee Expresses Concern over Budgetary Outlook for NASA Science Programs

Press Release From: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
Posted: Thursday, March 13, 2008

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(Washington, DC) - The House Science and Technology Committee's Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee held a hearing today to examine the state of NASA's space and Earth science programs as reflected in the Administration's FY09 budget. This hearing, dedicated specifically to NASA's science programs, builds upon the Committee's recent look at the agency's overall FY09 budget.

"NASA's science program has long been one of the agency's 'crown jewels', and it has delivered outstanding results since the dawn of the Space Age 50 years ago--results that have rewritten the scientific textbooks and captivated the imagination of the public both here and around the world.," stated Subcommittee Chairman Mark Udall (D-CO). "I want to see that record of accomplishment and inspiration continue. However, I'm concerned that NASA's science program is facing an uncertain future under the funding plan offered by the Administration."

NASA's science programs represent 25% of the agency's FY09 budget. That budget directs $4.4 billion toward NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) programs which include Earth science, heliophysics, astrophysics, and planetary science. The FY09 budget for these programs is $264.7 million less than the FY08 appropriated amount.

Chairman Udall recognized NASA Associate Administrator Dr. S. Alan Stern for his efforts to further science programs at the agency, but cautioned that sustaining those activities under current budget conditions looked unlikely. "I commend Dr. Stern for his efforts to address some of the stresses facing the science community from past NASA budgetary problems, and for the energy and commitment he has brought to his job. Yet, as we heard from a number of our witnesses today, it is not at all clear that it is going to be possible to sustain those new initiatives in an effective manner under the Administration's assumed funding plan."

As an example of this concern, Udall pointed to a recent National Academies estimate that some $7 billion would be required over the next 12 years to carry out the 15 NASA Earth Science missions recommended in the Decadal Survey. Yet, the Administration's budget plan for the next five years would allocate less than $1 billion to that effort. Udall expressed similar concerns about the programmatic and budgetary outlook for NASA's highly productive robotic Mars exploration program, as well as for the agency's astrophysics program.

Over the last year, NASA's Science Mission Directorate launched the Dawn mission that will explore two large asteroids; the Phoenix Mars lander mission; the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) mission to study coronal mass ejections from the Sun; the Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions During Substorms (THEMIS) mission, and the Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) mission.

In 2008, the Science Mission Directorate plans to launch the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX), the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), the Gamma Ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST), the Ocean Surface Topography Mission (OSTM), the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO), conduct a fourth Hubble servicing mission, and complete contributions to international and interagency partner missions that are planned for launch in 2008.

Added Udall, "NASA's challenging new science initiatives are to be built on a budget that increases by only 1% through FY11, and that assumes only inflationary increases at best in the years beyond that. There will be little new money--instead, there will be a continuing need to transfer of funds across the science accounts to support each new initiative--an approach some might call 'robbing Peter to pay Paul'. I'm very concerned that such an approach will not prove sustainable or credible."

In addition to Dr. Stern, the subcommittee heard testimony from Dr. Lennard A. Fisk, Chair of Space Studies Board, National Research Council; Dr. Berrien Moore III, Executive Director of Climate Central and Chair of the Committee on Earth Studies, Space Studies Board, National Research Council; Dr. Steven W. Squyres, Professor at Cornell University; Dr. Jack O. Burns, Professor at University of Colorado.

For more information on this hearing, please visit the Committee's website at www.house.gov/science.

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