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NASA Explorer Program


[Mailed to US members from at 9:20am 10 MAY 2004]



Sidney Wolff, Chair of AAS Committee on Astronomy and Public Policy Roger Blandford, HEAD Chair and Kevin B. Marvel, Deputy Executive Officer


This Action Alert asks AAS members to contact their members of Congress in support of the NASA Explorer program, which received reduced funding levels in the President's FY 2005 budget proposal.


The President's budget proposal is submitted to Congress each year in February, near the time of the state of the union address. The budget serves as a planning guide for the next five fiscal years and represents the President's requested funding levels from Congress for all discretionary government spending.

Agencies, such as NASA, NSF and DOE, which all fund astronomy or astrophysics research (in addition to other agencies like the Department of Defense and the Department of Commerce, through NOAA) work with the Office of Management and Budget beginning nearly 2 years prior to the fiscal year in question to map out their budgetary requirements, new program starts and other details.

This year, several cuts were proposed by the President for programs within NASA's Office of Space Science. AAS Action Alerts have already been distributed asking for members to write their member of Congress on the cuts to the Sun-Earth Connection enterprise and the Beyond Einstein initiative. These Action Alerts can be found at

The final significant reduction proposed by the President is potentially very damaging to the astronomy community, a cut to the Explorer program.

The Explorer program, which began in 1958, is "meant to provide frequent flight opportunities for world-class scientific investigations from space utilizing innovative, streamlined and efficient management approaches within the following space science themes; Astronomical Search for Origins and Planetary Systems, Structure and Evolution of the Universe, The Sun-Earth Connection. The program seeks to enhance public awareness of, and appreciation for, space science and to incorporate educational and public outreach activities as integral parts of space science investigations." [quote from the NASA Explorers program homepage]

Using these special management methods, the program is designed to provide a low-cost funding source for unique and creative missions in several size ranges including the well-known MIDEX (not greater than $180M), SMEX (not greater than $120M) and UNEX (not greater than $15M). Missions of opportunity and international partnerships are also supported under the program.

The roster of successful missions is an impressive one. On the astronomical side there are: ACE, CHIPS, FUSE, GALEX, HETE-2, RHESSI, RXTE, SWAS, TRACE AND WMAP. In addition there is a comparably successful space physics program. Essentially every explorer mission has produced transformative scientific results ranging from probing magnetic flares to determining the size, shape and contents of the Universe.

The Request

The President's budget "proposed a reduced budget for the Explorer program resulting in a reduced flight rate for future Explorer missions. The available funding for future Explorers (includes SMEX selections from the current Phase A studies as well as missions solicited through future AO's) will not support the baseline plan, which was:
(a) Downselect to two SMEX's for launch in 2007 and 2008, and
(b) Issue an AO this year for MIDEX's to launch in 2010 and 2011.

NASA is working the budgets now, but it appears that the reduced Explorer Program budget will support the following options:
. Option A: (a) Downselect to two SMEX's for launch in 2008 and 2009, and (b) Issue an AO in 2006 for MIDEX's to launch around 2012 or later.
. Option B: (a) Downselect to one SMEX for launch in 2008, and (b) Issue an AO in 2005 for a MIDEX to launch around 2011.

This reduced flight schedule is a blow to the astronomy community.

Remembering that the President proposes and the Congress disposes, AAS members are requested to contact their member of Congress to request that the cuts to the Explorer line be restored to the level proposed in the FY 2003 budget request. It is especially important to also write to the Chairs and Ranking Members of the VA-HUD-IA Appropriations Subcommittees, whose addresses are given below. AAS members can look up the contact information for their members of Congress using the AAS Zip-to-It feature, available through this link:

Phone calls, FAXes and Letters are all useful means of communication. Email is still not processed uniformly by all congressional offices.

VA-HUD-IA Appropriations Subcommittee Contacts

The Honorable Senator Christopher S. Bond
Senate VA-HUD-IA Appropriations Subcommittee
United States Senate
274 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-2503
Phone: 202-224-5721
FAX: 202-224-8149

The Honorable Barbara A. Mikulski
Senate VA-HUD-IA Appropriations Subcommittee
United States Senate
709 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-2003
Phone: 202-224-4654
FAX: 202-224-8858

The Honorable James T. Walsh
House VA-HUD-IA Appropriations Subcommittee
United States House of Representatives
2369 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515-3225
Phone: 202-225-3701
FAX: 202-225-4042

The Honorable Alan B. Mollohan
House VA-HUD-IA Appropriations Subcommittee
United States House of Representatives
2302 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515-4801
Phone: 202-225-4172
FAX: 202-225-7564

Sample Letter

Dear Congressman U. V. Spectrahscahpy,

I am writing that you restore the cuts to the NASA Explorer Mission budget, which was proposed for significant cuts by President Bush in his FY2005 budget proposal.

I am a professor of astronomy at the Western Northeastern State teachers college, which is located in your district. I actively participate in astronomical research which is funded in large part by the government, including NSF and NASA. The Explorer missions have a long history of significant scientific successes and also serve as vehicles for the education of future astrophysicists.

The cuts proposed by President Bush would significantly delay the selection and development of new Explorer class missions. Nearly every explorer mission has produced transformative scientific results from probing magnetic flares to determining the size, shape and contents of the Universe itself.

If I can ever be of service to you in the future, please do not hesitate to contact me immediately.

Humbly at your service,

Dr. Stahrs R. Twinklin, Professor
Western Northeastern State Teachers College
Urdistrict, Urstate 31415-9265


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