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President Elmegreen Testifies Before the House Appropriations Subcommittee

AAS Informational Email 2011-04

Subject: President Elmegreen Testifies Before the House Appropriations
Subcommittee for Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies

Kevin B. Marvel, Executive Officer
&
Bethany Johns, John Bahcall Public Policy Fellow

The AAS regularly provides testimony to Congressional committees that have direct impact on astronomy and astrophysics. Typically, this testimony takes the form of submitted written remarks, which are considered by the committees as they pursue their legislative activities.

An opportunity recently arose for the AAS to provide oral testimony to the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies. It is not common for an organization to be selected to provide actual oral testimony and the Society moved quickly to prepare and submit five pages of written testimony, while President Debra Elmegreen prepared four minutes of oral testimony to augment the written document. The focus was to support astronomy broadly by describing the decadal survey, its priorities and the community support for the survey, following our policy of supporting astronomy and related disciplines broadly.

President Elmegreen completed her testimony on Friday during the hearing of the subcommittee and it is included below in its entirety.

The five page written testimony and the oral testimony will be available on the AAS website and the Blog, blog.aas.org. Check the twitter accounts @AAS_CAPP or @AAS_Bethany_J for more information from the testimony.

Testimony of Dr. Debra M. Elmegreen, President of the American Astronomical Society

Before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies On Astronomy and Astrophysics in the FY 2012 Budget

March 11, 2011

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on astronomy in the FY2012 budget from my perspective as President of the American Astronomical Society, the organization for professional astronomers in North America. The AAS supports the NASA, NSF, and DOE budget requests as they pertain to astronomy, and the Office of Nuclear Energy plutonium-238 production restart.

We are in a golden age of discovery for astronomy, from planets around nearby stars to dark energy and the early Universe. We stand poised to answer big questions: Are we alone? How did the Universe begin? What is it made of? Astronomy inspires generations of scientists and engineers through discoveries about the Universe revealed by NSF-supported telescopes on the ground, like the new ALMA radio telescope, and NASA missions in space, like Hubble Space Telescope, and Kepler, which finds Earth-like planets. Each year, a quarter of a million college students enroll in astronomy courses, including 15% of all future K-12 teachers.

The US astronomical community just completed its 6th decadal survey to determine the most compelling research and to prioritize the projects to accomplish those goals. This well-respected survey process has helped make the US a world astronomy leader. The report, "New Worlds, New Horizons," produced by the National Academies and funded by NASA, NSF and DOE, provides policy makers with a prioritized set of initiatives for federal support. It is based on input from over 1000 astronomers, an independent assessment of costs and risks, and budgetary constraints. The recommended program is a balance of small, medium, and large projects, and builds on international, private, and interagency partnerships.

The top large ground project is the revolutionary Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, enabling time domain discoveries by rapid repeated sky scans. It will find small Near-Earth Asteroids (as Congressionally mandated) and distant supernovae (which map out the Universe's acceleration). Nightly acquisition of over 10,000 Gigabytes of data will drive new methods for data archiving. LSST will be unique worldwide, highlighting US leadership.

Our recommended Mid-Scale Innovations Program will allow a competed program in NSF for medium-cost projects. Our top-ranked medium project is CCAT, a large sub-millimeter telescope that will complement ALMA by surveying regions forming planets and galaxies.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope and was the top-ranked program in the 2000 Decadal Survey. It underlies many of the 2010 decadal recommended activities. JWST will transform astronomy, through observations of the first stars and galaxies, black holes, and planets in formation. We support JWST.

A timely launch of JWST also enables this decadal survey's top-ranked large space program, the Wide-Field Infrared Space Telescope. Its goals encompass two high priority astronomy areas -- Earth-like planets and Dark Energy. Our leadership in dark energy studies is at risk if a WFIRST launch this decade or a suitable partnership with the European Space Agency is not achieved.

The mid-scale Explorer missions in NASA's Astrophysics Division address other important issues: they provide rapid launches for timely research, as with the Cosmic Background Explorer that led to a Nobel prize, and they enable instrument training for young scientists.

An issue critical to planetary science is the production of plutoninum-238, used to power missions to the outer solar system such as the Cassini mission to Saturn. There is no viable energy alternative for deep space missions. A production re-start is vital to avoid delayed missions and escalating costs. We urge funding the plutonium restart.

In closing, I thank Representative Wolf for your bipartisan leadership in supporting science and advanced research. Your efforts, along with Representative Mollohan and this committee, have benefited science broadly and astronomy in particular. I can think of no more important way to rebuild America than to support advanced research and maintain US leadership in science, engineering and technology. Thank you.


[Mailed from aas.org 11 March 2011]

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