Geological Society of America Planetary Geology Division: NASA Funding and James Webb Space Telescope

Status Report From: Geological Society of America Planetary Geology Division
Posted: Wednesday, September 28, 2011

image Dear Members of the GSA Planetary Geology Division:

The GSA Planetary Geology Division (PGD) Management Board has been asked to address the current NASA FY2012 budget and the threat to planetary science funding caused by a possible congressional plan to transfer funds from NASA's Planetary Science Division (PSD) to cover cost overruns of the NASA James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The purpose of this letter is to inform you of the nature of the problem, so that you can consider any corrective action such as writing letters to your Congressional representatives, if you deem this appropriate.

THE PROBLEM: The recently released NRC Planetary Science Decadal Survey ("Visions and Voyages"), with input from the planetary geology and planetary science community, detailed specific priorities for the next decade of solar system exploration. The NRC Planetary Decadal Survey did not cite JWST as a priority for planetary science. While the House and Senate have basically agreed upon a budget for NASA Planetary Science for FY2012, the resolution of whether or not and how to fund JWST places this all at risk.

JWST is a very important mission for the astrophysics community and the NASA's Astrophysics Division. In a recent editorial published in the Planetary Exploration Newsletter, several leading planetary scientists suggested that a better solution for the JWST cost overruns is that any funds not added to the NASA Science Mission Directorate by Congress to cover the significant increases in JWST costs should be solely derived from the NASA Astrophysics Division budget line, as advocates such as the American Astronomical Society have identified JWST as their highest priority (it was the top major initiative for U.S. astrophysics in the 2001 & 2010 NRC Astrophysics Decadal Surveys). That prioritization is among activities only within astrophysics, not planetary science, Earth science or heliophysics. Because astronomers have been so strongly supportive of JWST for the current and future budgets, it is only appropriate that they be responsible for the consequences of such a choice.

The biggest concern of planetary scientists, therefore, is that our own current and planned planetary missions, and supporting research and data analysis funding, will be severely reduced over the next decade to pay for the JWST overruns (JWST is now scheduled for a 2018 launch with a total cost approaching $8.7 billion).

THE SOLUTION: As members of the PGD your opinions should be heard. It is important that everyone concerned with this issue contact their Congressional representatives to express your opinions and comments on this issue WITHIN THE NEXT TWO WEEKS. Here are some questions to consider as you prepare your letters:

(1) What is the relative importance of planetary missions and R&A vs. JWST as national priorities in space?

(2) If Congress believes JWST is so important that it must be restored, then should Congress commit to adding funds to the NASA budget sufficient to cover JWST's expenses from here forward, recognizing that it may well cost more than $8.7B?

(3) Where should any JWST funding shortfalls come from? The NASA Astrophysics Division budget? The Planetary Science Division budget? Spread evenly throughout NASA Science Mission Directorate? From within other parts of NASA, or outside NASA?

(4) Because of the importance and successes of the NASA Planetary Science program and its carefully thought out slate of current and planned missions, do you think U.S. leadership in space would suffer if funds were removed and planetary missions sacrificed to pay for JWST cost overruns?

We suggest you write letters and FAX them to:

The Honorable Frank R. Wolf,
Chairman, House Appropriations Subcommittee on
Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies
FAX: 202-225-1808

The Honorable Senator Barbara Mikulski
Chairwoman, Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on
Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies
FAX: 202-224-8858

We also suggest that you write to your own Congressional representatives, and ask them to contact the appropriate CJS Subcommittee.

FYI, the editorial is posted to the PEN Newsletter .

Thank you for supporting space exploration and the scientific endeavors that it enables!

Sincerely, your GSA Planetary Geology Division Management Board,

Dr. David A. Williams, Chair
Dr. Simon A. Kattenhorn, First Vice Chair (VC)
Dr. Robert C. Anderson, Second VC
Dr. Debra L. Buczkowski, Secretary-Treasurer
Dr. Jayne C. Aubele, Past Chair
Geological Society of America
Planetary Geology Division

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