American Astronomical Society Issues Statement on President's FY 2013 Budget

Press Release From: American Astronomical Society
Posted: Thursday, February 23, 2012

image The American Astronomical Society (AAS) today issued a statement thanking President Obama for his strong support of science as embodied in his proposed budget for fiscal year (FY) 2013 but asking him and the Congress to strive harder to maintain a balance of small, medium, and large space missions in astronomy and astrophysics, planetary science, and solar physics. Some provisions of the President's FY 2013 budget, especially a 20 percent cut in NASA's planetary science funding, threaten to undermine the recommendations of recent decadal surveys of these fields by the National Academy of Sciences.

"It is challenging to receive a budget from the President that supports part of our discipline and undercuts another," says AAS Executive Officer Dr. Kevin B. Marvel. "We will work throughout 2012 to encourage Congress to fully support all of the decadal surveys' priorities."

"We are grateful that the funding for the James Webb Space Telescope puts it on track for a launch in 2018," adds AAS President Debra M. Elmegreen (Vassar College), "and we hope we can achieve a balance of large, medium, and small projects in solar physics, planetary science, and astronomy and astrophysics so that U.S. leadership in these fields can be sustained."

The full text of the AAS statement, written by the Society's Committee on Astronomy and Public Policy (CAPP) and approved by the AAS Executive Committee, follows:

American Astronomical Society Statement on the President's FY 2013 Budget Adopted 23 February 2012

The American Astronomical Society, noting the budgetary challenges that the nation faces, appreciates the President's commitment to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) research in the FY 2013 budget. Astronomical research, including the study of the Sun, the solar system, and the rest of the universe, is a vital part of the research activity of the United States and an area in which the U.S. has been preeminent for many decades. It is critical to maintain a balance among the large, medium, and small missions, projects, and activities recommended in the heliophysics, planetary, and astronomy and astrophysics decadal surveys in order to sustain a vibrant research community that is essential to our nation's economic, scientific, and technological future.

The AAS is grateful to the Congress and the Administration for the inclusion of NASA funding to enable launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) later this decade, as the top-ranked large-scale space mission of the 2001 astronomy and astrophysics decadal survey and the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. The AAS also appreciates National Science Foundation (NSF) funding for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) pre-construction planning and Department of Energy support for LSST camera development, continued funding for the construction of the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope (ATST), and for the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), now entering science operations. These are top-ranked projects in the 2001 and 2010 astronomy and astrophysics decadal surveys.

At the same time, the AAS is deeply concerned that the significant cuts to NASA's Planetary Science Division will preclude development of the top-ranked projects in the 2011 planetary sciences decadal survey, scale back the very successful Discovery and New Frontiers programs, threaten our national standing as a leader in planetary science research now and in the future, and curtail planned collaborations with international partners. Stepping away from international partnerships degrades NASA's reputation as a trusted collaborator and limits the scientific capabilities achievable in the future. The significant scientific challenges of the future demand reliable cooperation internationally, and NASA, the Administration, and Congress should seek to build up these partnerships in robust and sustainable ways in all of NASA's science divisions, while not degrading the ongoing success of our nation's planetary science activities.

The National Science Foundation supports astronomical sciences through the Division of Astronomical Sciences, the Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, and the Office of Polar Programs. The AAS applauds the President for increasing the budgets for these NSF divisions, enabling key research for decadal priorities.

The Department of Energy plays a key role in supporting our understanding of the basic physics that enables the production and utilization of energy. Through the High Energy Physics office's Cosmic Frontier program, support is provided for activities designed to advance our understanding of fundamental laws of physics and to answer mysteries of how the universe works. The AAS strongly supports the President's requested funding for these activities, which include dark matter, dark energy, and gamma-ray astrophysics.

NASA funds the astronomical sciences through the Science Mission Directorate via its Astrophysics, Planetary Science, and Heliophysics Divisions. The AAS notes the critical importance of healthy research and analysis (R&A) budgets in all divisions and the ongoing support and the promise of future funding for Explorer-class missions, which are vital to the development of knowledge and new mission concepts. Enhancement of the Astrophysics Explorer program was identified as a top priority of the 2010 astronomy & astrophysics decadal survey.

The AAS calls upon Congress and the Administration to fully support the balance of NASA activities by ensuring a healthy, affordable progression of flagship-class missions across all three space science divisions. There are key scientific goals that can only be addressed through significant investment in large missions, which of necessity have long lead times. The number one priority of the 2010 astronomy and astrophysics decadal survey, the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), is delayed from the rapid science return that was envisioned, and planned future Mars missions are now on hold. Previous large missions such as the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), the Cassini Saturn orbiter, and others demonstrate that the wealth of knowledge they produce outweighs their costs and allows breakthroughs in understanding our universe.

The members of the AAS are committed to enhancing our understanding of the universe by using the resources made available to us through publicly funded programs that develop and operate world-class facilities, support our research, and enable us to educate our students and fellow citizens.

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The American Astronomical Society (AAS), established in 1899 and based in Washington, DC, is the major organization of professional astronomers in North America. Its membership of about 7,500 individuals also includes physicists, mathematicians, geologists, engineers, and others whose research and educational interests lie within the broad spectrum of subjects now comprising contemporary astronomy. The mission of the AAS is to enhance and share humanity's scientific understanding of the universe. Among its many activities, the AAS publishes three of the leading peer-reviewed journals in the field: The Astrophysical Journal, The Astronomical Journal, and Astronomy Education Review.

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