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AAS President Christine Jones Testifies Before Congress

Wednesday, July 13, 2016 - 12:27

On 12 July 2016, new AAS President Christine Jones testified before a joint hearing of the Subcommittee on Space and the Subcommittee on Research & Technology — both subcommittees of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. The hearing was titled "Astronomy, Astrophysics, and Astrobiology." The witnesses were Paul Hertz of NASA, Jim Ulvestad of the National Science Foundation (NSF), Angela Olinto of the multi-agency Astronomy & Astrophysics Advisory Committee (AAAC), Shelley Wright of UC-San Diego, and our own Christine Jones.

The Space and Research subcommittees have jurisdiction over NASA and the NSF, respectively, and they convened this hearing to examine astronomy, astrophysics, and astrobiology programs, projects, and activities at NASA, NSF, academia, and the private sector. 

Dr. Hertz told the subcommittees that NASA is studying four concepts for potential large missions: an X-ray surveyor, a far-infrared surveyor, a large ultraviolet, optical, and infrared (LUVOIR) surveyor, and a habitable-exoplanet imaging mission (HabEx). These concept studies will be presented to the 2020 astronomy and astrophysics decadal survey committee.

Dr. Ulvestad described some of the plans at NSF's Division of Astronomical Sciences, including the ongoing construction of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) and the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST), the collaboration with NASA to build a high-precision spectrograph for the 3.5-meter WIYN telescope, and the initiation of the Mid-Scale Innovations Program (MSIP). 

Dr. Olinto expressed concern about the balance of the astronomical sciences portfolio, especially as flat or declining budgets increase proposal pressure. She praised the decadal survey process, calling it "the right process" for prioritizing missions based on cost and available technology.

Dr. Wright focused on astrobiology and described programs in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), emphasizing that, while enthusiasm for SETI has increased, resources remain scarce.

Dr. Jones thanked Congress for its support of the astronomical sciences, indicating that “we are very fortunate in the United States to have a robust fleet of space- and ground-based observatories that allow us to make exciting new discoveries about our universe.” She emphasized that research “has more than pure academic value,” citing the technology transfer of CCD detectors to digital cameras and technology developed for observing X-ray sources to security screening. She also pointed out that astronomy offers a path to a wide variety of careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). “Perhaps the most important technology transfer of all," she said, "is technically trained people. Astronomy is really a gateway science that brings people into STEM fields." But, she said, “most scientific fields, including ours, have a very long way to go on the path toward being fully inclusive of underrepresented minorities. There are no easy answers or quick fixes, but our community is committed to doing better.”

You can watch the hearing in its entirety at https://science.house.gov/legislation/hearings/joint-space-subcommittee-...That webpage also has links to the full written testimonies of each witness and the opening statements of each of the chairs. The opening statements of each of the ranking members are at http://democrats.science.house.gov/hearing/astronomy-astrophysics-and-as....

Heather Bloemhard
John N. Bahcall Public Policy Fellow
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