2 May 2005

Cuts To NASA Science Funding


2 May 2005

American Astronomical Society Calls Cuts to NASA Science Funding a Threat to US Pre-eminence in Space

The American Astronomical Society released a statement today (included in whole below and available at the AAS website decrying the recently announced cuts to NASA astrophysics funding.

AAS President Robert Kirshner said, "NASA is having a tough time paying for its superb science program. This year's choice to omit support of individual astronomers is very painful for astronomers and could lead to serious damage in the long run. We have to work with NASA to make sure that the president's exploration vision is firmly linked to a broad view of the science NASA does so well."

David Black, chair of the AAS Committee on Astronomy and Public Policy said:

"The budget pressures that NASA and its Science Mission Directorate face are significant. Much of the problem is due to a substantial increase in Congressional earmarks, so the need for action by NASA is clear. The problem with the steps that have been taken by NASA are twofold. First, the Research and Analysis programs that have been hit with cuts are the seed stock of the nation's future talent, and reducing them at a time when there is a new Administrator charged with implementing the President's call for expanded exploration, is hard to rationalize. Second, there is concern that we may be seeing a dangerous precedent for future tight budget years. Continued reductions like these could put our nation's stature as a leader in space, and the benefits that flow from that leadership, at risk."

The American Astronomical Society is the primary professional organization for astronomers and astrophysicists in the United States with more than 6,000 current members. In addition, the Society publishes the major research journals in the fields of astronomy and astrophysics and holds biannual meetings to highlight research performed by astronomers worldwide. The AAS works actively to further astronomy and astrophysics research in the United States and internationally. The Society web page is www.aas.org.


NASA's science programs have provided---and continue to provide---the Nation with a strong return on its investment in space exploration. Essential elements of this return are NASA's data analysis programs associated with specific missions and its research and analysis (R&A) programs that fund more general research that guides and informs future space missions. These R&A programs are critical for training the next generation of scientists and assuring the nation of continued leadership in space exploration.

NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) budget for FY 2005 has come under intense pressure with required reductions of several hundred million dollars arising from costs of returning the shuttle fleet to flight, unplanned expenses associated with the Hubble Space Telescope, and a record level of unfunded congressional earmarks. As a result, NASA has announced a series of terminations of new mission opportunities, as well as cutbacks in key R&A programs for the coming year.

Reductions in R&A programs have a disproportionate long-term impact for the small amount of money saved. These reductions compromise a major vehicle for recruiting and developing younger researchers, and therefore, the cuts correspond to the loss of scientists and the capabilities they bring to our national space efforts. The President is calling for expanded exploration. Cutting R&A programs and thereby reducing our capacity to explore cannot accomplish that.

Budget actions taken at this time can set dangerous precedents for upcoming years, as prospects for NASA's future budget appear no better than for FY2005. To ensure that long-term priorities are preserved and that science return is maximized in a reduced funding environment, NASA should involve members of the science community in a current assessment of missions before finalizing decisions on possible mission terminations. What is at stake is American preeminence in space science and the scientific, educational and economic benefits that flow from that enterprise.