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NASA Astrobiology Program Status

Status Report From: NASA HQ
Posted: Monday, March 20, 2006

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From: Carl Pilcher
Date: March 20, 2006 3:30:09 PM EST
To: undisclosed-recipients
Subject: Astrobiology Program Status

To the Astrobiology community:

As is widely known, the President’s budget request for FY07 that was recently submitted to the Congress contains a 50% cut to the Astrobiology Research and Analysis (R&A) Program.  That Program--which includes the Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology Program (Exo/Evo), the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI), the Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring Planets (ASTEP) Program, and the Astrobiology Science and Technology Instrument Development (ASTID) Program—had total funding of approximately $65 million in FY05.  As part of the ramp-down to the FY07 funding level, the total budget for the program in FY06 has been cut 28% to just under $47 million.

Even at the requested FY07 funding level we will be able to support a vigorous program of astrobiology research and some technology development.  Obviously, however, it will be about half the size of the current program.  Getting from here to there will be challenging and painful.  I will seek guidance from the astrobiology community about how to approach this adjustment in the long term, but I have had to make some policy decisions regarding near term actions.  The principal decision is to fully fund previous astrobiology competitive awards to the greatest degree possible.  The implication of this policy is that our ability to make new awards in FY06 will be extremely limited.

Nonetheless, we plan to go forward with panel reviews of the proposals we received in late 2005 for all four elements of the program.  The proposing teams put an enormous amount of effort into preparing these proposals and they deserve at least the critical feedback provided by the peer review process. Having the peer review evaluations in hand will also allow NASA to make the most effective use of whatever funds are available for new awards.

I have also reluctantly concluded that, under the present circumstances, it is not sensible to go forward with new astrobiology solicitations in FY06.  NASA has therefore canceled the three astrobiology elements of the ROSES-06 omnibus solicitation (Exo/Evo, ASTEP, ASTID).  This decision can be reversed in the future should the budget picture change.

I continue to believe that astrobiology is not only at the heart of NASA science and the Vision for Space Exploration, but is also--in its breadth and interdisciplinarity--representative of how science increasingly will be conducted in the 21st Century.  NASA, through its development of astrobiology, has been a leader in this scientific transformation. The astrobiology community in turn is playing a transformative role as it advances our understanding of the potential for life to exist beyond Earth. I am proud of all that the community has achieved and I am confident that these achievements will continue.  I ask for your understanding and support as we work through this difficult time.

Thanks,

Carl Pilcher
NASA Senior Scientist for Astrobiology

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