Adopted 22 April 2013.
The American Astronomical Society (AAS) appreciates the President’s continued support for science in the 2014 Budget. Investment in the science and technology enterprise is particularly important during difficult economic times, since Federally funded research plays a critical role in the Nation’s economic competitiveness and the well-being of its citizens. 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 country has been preeminent for many decades.
Within the request for NASA, the AAS appreciates the Administration’s strong support for a number of top-priority recommendations from the three National Research Council decadal surveys that span the astronomical sciences, including the James Webb Space Telescope, Mars exploration, and the Solar Probe Plus and Solar Orbiter missions.
The AAS also appreciates the coordinated funding at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy (DOE) to begin construction and fabrication of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope—the top-ranked major ground-based project in the 2010 Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey. The AAS acknowledges increased research funding in the DOE Cosmic Frontiers program and increased funding at NSF for a number of decadal survey priorities, including ongoing construction of the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope, the transition to full operations at the recently dedicated Atacama Large Millimeter Array, and the initiation of a wedge for the new Mid-Scale Innovations Program.
While noting these important and positive aspects of the President’s request, the AAS also has a number of concerns about the Budget, specifically its negative impact on planetary science missions, the proposed reorganization of NASA’s education and public outreach programs, and the balance of the overall research program for the astronomical sciences.
The AAS is deeply concerned about the Administration’s renewed proposal to cut NASA’s Planetary Science Division, this time by $200 million compared to the 2013 level enacted by Congress and signed by the President last month. At this level, the budget precludes a major mission to any planet other than Mars after 2017, and precludes exploration of Europa, a high priority for the planetary science community. The request also threatens the cadence of Discovery and New Frontiers missions, which are a cornerstone of the Planetary Sciences Decadal Survey to ensure balance among mission classes. The U.S. planetary exploration program has a storied history and a compelling plan for the future. The AAS urges the Administration and the Congress to find a path forward that maintains U.S. leadership in planetary science, rather than ceding future exploration of our solar system to other nations.
The AAS shares the Administration’s goal of increasing the impact and reach of the government’s sizeable science education investment. Nevertheless, the proposal to restructure NASA’s education portfolio by eliminating all mission-specific education and public outreach (EPO) programs is deeply concerning. Many NASA EPO activities serve as the government’s best examples of how to bring the results of contemporary science into a wide range of educational settings using research-validated pedagogical practices. These mission-specific EPO programs have developed powerful collaborations amongst education professionals, mission scientists, and engineers. The restructuring proposal is certain to dismantle the strategic networks and infrastructure that have been carefully built over many years. The AAS recommends that the EPO programs using evidence-based methods and demonstrating clear success at achieving the objectives of the Administration’s restructuring proposal be exempted from any consolidation.
Finally, the AAS is concerned by the relatively low priority afforded research and analysis grants and future Explorer opportunities at NASA, and research grants and existing facility operations at NSF. These were identified as high priorities in all three of the decadal surveys. Taken together, reductions in these smaller competitive, peer-reviewed programs will result in an overall program that is unbalanced toward large facilities without allocating the research and training resources necessary to exploit those facilities’ full scientific potential. It is critical to maintain the balance among the large, medium, and small missions, projects, and activities recommended in all three decadal surveys in order to sustain the vibrant research community essential to our nation’s economic, scientific, and technological future.
The AAS looks forward to working with the Administration and the Congress to improve upon the 2014 request as the process moves forward.