Search form

AAS ACTION ALERT 2004-03

[Mailed to US members from aas.org at 12.:40pm 29 MARCH 2004]

___________________________________________________________

From: Sidney Wolff, Chair, AAS Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics Roger Blandford, Chair, High Energy Astrophysics Division and Kevin B. Marvel, AAS Deputy Executive Officer

SUMMARY

This action alert calls on AAS members to contact their members of Congress to restore the cuts to the Beyond Einstein initiative called for by the President's FY 2005 budget.

The length of this message is dictated by the complexity of the SEU budget and our wish to provide all possible details for those interested in taking action.


INTRODUCTION

The President's announcement of a new vision for NASA directed at eventually landing humans on Mars and using the Moon as a testbed for the necessary technologies has initiated a great deal of discussion and debate and also sparked some fears within the science community. We know that science and exploration go hand in hand and public comments of Administrator O'Keefe and Office of Space Science Associate Administrator Ed Weiler clearly show that within NASA this dual pronged approach to exploration is accepted and understood as well.

We believe that an overall vision for NASA is important and valuable, but the AAS is concerned that without careful thought and implementation of the proposed changes, the overall science effort at NASA could be harmed. In particular, the community input and priority setting processes within the agency and from external bodies (like the National Academy) represent a community consensus and vision for the scientific exploration that NASA should pursue. Much of this research is not focused on the Moon or Mars, but much further afield, from nearby stars to the most distant galaxy.

The AAS will be very active this year, including issuing Action Alerts and Information Emails to our members focusing on the various aspects of the federal budget that we feel are detrimentally impacting our research. However, these calls-to-action should not be viewed as individual concerns, but as pieces in an overall advocacy effort. We know that our research excites the public and has inherent value. We know that current developments in our field such as the discovery of extrasolar planets and the dark energy have energized our research efforts and added a degree of urgency to our studies. This urgency is not necessarily felt by the President or Congress and it is up to us to carry our message to policy makers and convince them that now is the time to support astronomical research, not to reduce the funding for our efforts.

In any communication with Congress, be sure to first address the big issues of the importance of science to NASA exploration efforts. Then make the case for any specific issues. We must always argue for science in general before we argue on specific line items within the overall budget, which, at NASA and NSF at least, is healthier this year than the average government program.

BACKGROUND

The Beyond Einstein program, a comprehensive strategy to investigate how the Universe began, whether time has a beginning and will have an end and whether space has edges as well as other questions at the boundaries of our physical understanding of the Universe, was unveiled in 2003 as a unifying concept for the Structure and Evolution in the Universe theme of NASA's Office of Space Science (OSS).

Drawing on community input and prioritization from the two national academy of sciences reports, "Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium" and "Connecting Quarks with the Cosmos", the Beyond Einstein roadmap (http://universe.gsfc.nasa.gov/be/roadmap.html) lays out the future of this important and highly successful theme within the OSS.

Two large projects necessary to meet the science goals of the initiative and currently under study are the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) and the Constellation X (Con-X) "Great Observatories". Both instruments received high priority from the astronomy community for construction in the current decade.

LISA will use an array of free flying satellites to carefully measure the baseline expansion or contraction due to the passage of gravitational waves while Con-X will perform X-ray spectroscopic studies of some of the most extreme objects in the Universe.

Both have the ultimate goal of testing theories about black holes, measuring the masses and spins OF black holes and how they release their energy. They will also be able to test if Einstein's theory of general relativity is correct when the force of gravity is strong.

In tandem with these Great Observatories the construction of several probes, targeted on specific scientific questions is called for by the Beyond Einstein roadmap. The three probes called for are a dark energy probe (also known as the Joint Dark Energy Mission (JDEM), recently announced as a joint initiative by NASA and the Department of Energy), an inflation probe and a Black Hole Finder probe. These probes will explore the consequences of recent remarkable discoveries about the nature of the Universe and the basic laws of physics.

DETAILS

In the President's FY 2005 budget proposal, the SEU theme is slated to receive $377.7 million, a decrease of approximately $28.3 million from the level proposed in the President's FY 2004 budget. Within the budget line there is a $26.2 million reduction to development expenditures, $11.8 million reduction for the Gamma Ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST), $14.4 million reduction to the small development projects budget, $6.0 million reduction to the operations budget, an increase of $22.5 million for research and analysis and an $18.6 million reduction to technology development.

The original funding plan for GLAST was to have contained a reduction of $29.1 million for this year, but the withdrawal of some international partners has caused the mission launch to be delayed until 2007 and has required increased resources from NASA to attain this launch date.

The small development portion of the SEU budget funds cooperation with international partners on a number of missions including Herschel, Planck, and Astro-E2. The reduction to the budget line comes mainly from the cancellation of the SPIDR mission, which was found by a review panel to not be able to meet necessary sensitivity requirements.

Operations funding for Gravity Probe-B, the Rossi X-ray timing explorer, WMAP, Swift and GLAST are being combined with the Data Analysis funding for those missions, which explains the decline in the operations budget.

All portions of the R&A budget receive increases in principle, but some of this increase comes from the combination of mission operations with data analysis, which could work to decrease the amount of funding available for mission-specific data analysis. R&A is a vital source of new ideas for the next generation of missions and a healthy R&A budget represents NASA's commitment to a vibrant research community and future mission funding.

The technology portion of the budget funds the longer-term development needs for the Beyond Einstein missions and for the successful Explorer missions, which are missions developed by university PIs. The reduction to technology development will result in delays for the development and launch of both LISA and Con-X as well as essentially stopping solicitation of proposals for new Explorer missions.

THE MAJOR CONCERN

Quoting language contained in the SEU budget: "Due to reductions in near-term budgets for LISA and Con-X, NASA is currently reassessing launch dates. As a result of the reprioritized agency activities, the FY 2005 and out-year budgets for Con-X and LISA have been reduced. The impacts to these programs will be fully assessed as part of the development of the FY 2006 budget. In addition, the Einstein Probes, medium-size missions, which were to have begun concept studies in FY 2004, have been indefinitely deferred."

This is the most troubling portion of the President's SEU budget request, and the portion that Congress can restore if AAS and HEAD members take the time to communicate the value of these programs to their representatives and senators.

ACTION REQUESTED

AAS members are asked to call, FAX and write their member of Congress and a few key members of Congress who sit on important committees with a request to restore the Beyond Einstein initiative and the Explorer-class missions within the Office of Space Science at NASA. Messages should be short and on target, quoting a request for a specific action.

A sample phone conversation and letter are included below for reference in creating your own communication.

WHO TO CONTACT

Please write your own members of Congress.

Their contact information can be found by using the AAS Zip-To-It tool available at:

http://www.aas.org/policy/aas.bios.html

Please also contact these important legislators:

Sherwood L. Boehlert, Chair (R-NY) and
Bart Gordon, Ranking Member (D-TN)
House Committee On Science
2320 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: 202-225-6371
Fax: 202-226-0113

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 PHONE CONVERSATION

<Ring>
Receptionist: "Senator Redshift's office."

You: "Hi. I'm calling to ask Senator Redshift to restore the cuts to the Beyond Einstein Initiative within the Office of Space Science at NASA. The president's budget contains large cuts to this effort, which is something I care very deeply about." [If you're from the Senator's state, mention that as well.]

Receptionist: "Thank you. I'll relay this to the Senator."

You: "Can I speak to a staffer on this issue? Do you have someone that covers science funding or NASA in particular?"

Receptionist: "Sure, I'll connect you to Quantum Quark, our NASA expert."

You: "Thanks."

Quantum Quark (or Quantum Quark's voice mail...): "Hi, how can I help you?"

You: "Hi, my name is Wharp D. Spahce, and I am calling to ask that Senator Redshift restore the cuts to the Beyond Einstein Initiative within the Office of Space Science at NASA. The cuts proposed are really damaging to my research field. I'm a constituent of the Senator and teach at the Eastern Reserve Technological University, where the Senator received his undergraduate education."

Quantum Quark: "I saw those cuts in the budget, can you
give me any more details on how you will be impacted?"

You: "Sure. I can give you a short answer now and send you a letter with some more details. [provide short answer]."

Quantum Quark: "Great, it was good to talk to you and I look forward to getting your letter."

You: "Thanks for your time and please let me know if you need any more help on this issue or information. I am happy to help in any way I can."

SAMPLE LETTER/FAX

Senator Redshift
House Office Building
Black Hole Basement Room 1.5

Dear Senator Redshift,

I am writing to ask that you restore the funding to the Beyond Einstein initiative and especially the Explorer missions.

The Beyond Einstein program is a comprehensive strategy to investigate how the Universe began, whether time has a beginning and will have an end and whether space has edges as well as other questions at the boundaries of our physical understanding of the Universe. It was unveiled in 2003 as a unifying concept for the Structure and Evolution in the Universe theme of NASA's Office of Space Science (OSS). Drawing on community input and prioritization from the two national academy of sciences reports, "Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium" and "Connecting Quarks with the Cosmos", the Beyond Einstein roadmap (http://universe.gsfc.nasa.gov/be/roadmap.html) lays out the future of this important and highly successful theme within the OSS.

Three recent discoveries, the existence of Dark Energy (which causes the expansion of the Universe to accelerate), acoustic oscillations predicted by the theory of inflation (an initial portion of the expansion of the Universe), and curved space around black holes (which can be used to measure their masses and spins) are among the far-reaching discoveries made in high energy physics and astrophysics in recent years. These discoveries have excited astronomers and physicists alike and caught the imagination of the public.

They have also attracted many of the best younger scientists to my field to try and understand their implications and uncover their mysteries.

The cuts proposed in the President's 2005 Budget request to this program severely limit our ability to pursue this high-priority area of scientific research.

If you need any further information or assistance on this matter, I stand ready to assist you in any way possible.

Sincerely,

Stahrs R. Twinklin, Ph.D.
Spectacular Professor of Physics
Curve D. Spahce Technological College
Your State, USA 31415-9265

___________________________________________________________

To read previous AAS Informational Emails visit www.aas.org/policy/InformationalEmails.html
To read previous AAS Action Alerts visit www.aas.org/policy/ActionAlerts.html
Comments and questions to: marvel@aas.org
Changes of address to: address@aas.org

Share: