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Witnesses: FY 2009 NASA Science Budget Makes Best of Limited Resources

Press Release From: House Science Committee Republicans
Posted: Thursday, March 13, 2008

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Washington, D.C. - Today Members of the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics heard from Dr. Alan Stern, Associate Administrator of the NASA Science Mission Directorate (SMD), along with a panel of leading research scientists on the fiscal year 2009 (FY09) budget request for science programs. At the hearing, there was a common view among both witnesses and Subcommittee Members that overall, NASA needs more money for all of its programs, including those in the SMD.

"Bearing in mind that the NASA science budget profile is essentially flat, the FY09 request nevertheless makes a good effort at remedying a number of deficiencies that have been highlighted in recent years," said Subcommittee Ranking Member Tom Feeney (R-FL). "As we begin the next fifty years of science and exploration, I want to ensure that NASA's science programs are not burdened by mistakes of the past. We must ensure more stability in policies, resources and agency management; use accurate cost estimates; and implement management controls to lessen the likelihood of skyrocketing growth in mission costs."

The President's FY 09 budget requests $4.4 billion in direct program dollars to fund NASA's science programs. NASA's science programs represent 25 percent of the President's total FY09 budget request for NASA.

Dr. Stern was confident that the full range of missions could be accomplished, as laid out in the FY09 request, even in light of the tight budget environment. "Historically, we are living through a truly spectacular age of discovery in space, and the United States is leading these discoveries," Stern said. "We cannot only see more and farther and deeper than any other generation in history, we are learning more at an incredible rate. The Subcommittee and the American taxpayers you represent should be proud of the historic human achievement that our program represents."

He continued, "Looking to the future, it will be critical to continue to attack what is arguably the root cause of the imbalances we redress in the FY 2009 budget request: cost growth for missions in development. For at the end of the day, no strategy for maintaining a balanced program can succeed for long in the absence of disciplined program management."

Given the limited resources, Dr. Lennard Fisk, Chair of the Space Studies Board at the National Research Council, agreed that the Science Mission Directorate, "is doing well with what it has, trying to maintain the vitality of the space and Earth science communities, and to move the program forward with new mission opportunities."

However, Dr. Fisk also stressed that the tight budget could cause problems due to a lack of flexibility, saying, "A single major setback in the cost of some mission under development would seriously stress the carefully woven plan of maintaining the vitality of all the different science disciplines."

Also testifying at the hearing were: Dr. Berrien Moore III, Executive Director, Climate Central and Chair, Committee on Earth Studies, National Research Council, Dr. Steven W. Squyres, Professor of Astronomy, Cornell University; and Dr. Jack O. Burns, Professor, Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy, University of Colorado.

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