Witnesses Say U.S. Remains Vulnerable to Space Weather, Needs Improved Forecasts
Washington D.C. - The Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics today held a hearing to examine the nation's space-based solar and space physics research program and to review the recommendations of a recently released National Research Council (NRC) decadal survey, Solar and Space Physics: A Science for a Technological Society. NASA has developed and launched a broad network of spacecraft that allow researchers to better understand the Earth-Sun system. Information from this research is used daily to help preserve technological infrastructure by allowing system operators to better react to variations of the Sun.
"Building our knowledge in this field is essential for maintaining our way of life on Earth as well as for improving the capability of enabling human exploration beyond the protection of Earth's atmosphere and magnetosphere," said Subcommittee Chairman Steven Palazzo (R-MS). "As has been stated countless times over the last several years, however, we face a tough budget environment. In order to continue a robust solar and space physics program, a prudent and careful examination of the core capabilities and essential services this country needs is first and foremost on our agenda."
Noting technological advancements and the growing importance of space weather information, Dr. Daniel Baker, chair of NRC's decadal survey, said that more Americans rely on space weather predictions. "Enabled by advances in scientific understanding as well as fruitful interagency partnerships, the capabilities of models that predict space weather impacts on Earth have also made rapid gains over the past decade. Reflecting these advances and a society increasingly vulnerable to the adverse effects of space weather, the number of users of space weather services has also grown rapidly."
However, the NRC's decadal survey committee acknowledged the prospect of limited budgets and therefore recommended NASA "stay the course" on major programs under development, urging the Agency to effectively utilize its current resources. Dr. Baker said that "The committee's recommendations are prioritized and integrated across agencies to form an effective set of programs consistent with fiscal and other constraints."
Testifying on behalf of NASA, Mr. Charles J. Gay, said the Agency "is pleased with the results of the heliophysics decadal survey and plans to work towards accomplishing the priorities of the scientific community in a timely manner." However, Mr. Gay also acknowledged that "...budget constraints present challenges to the implementation of the survey."
Acting Director of the National Weather Service, Ms. Laura Furgione, testified that "Our Nation remains vulnerable to space weather and needs improved forecasts providing more timely and accurate forecasts to help mitigate potential impacts from such events." Ms. Furgione, called the NRC report "an excellent first step," saying that the report "identifies critical research activities that are necessary to expand our comprehensive understanding of heliophysics and space weather as well as to improve our nation's forecast and warning capabilities."