The First Battle Of Planetary Science Budget Cuts Begins!

By Nick Venable | 8 years ago


I’m pretty sure some of you guys out there are fans of Sid Meier’s Civilization series of PC strategy games, and perhaps you’ll agree with me that one of the easiest ways to win the game is to quickly develop as many of your technologies as possible, so that building military units and city buildings is quick and cheap. Because science and knowledge are the building blocks for all aspects of society. And what’s the simplest way to destroy a society? You take away its exit plan.

2013 has already been a solid year for space research, but that won’t last beyond December 31, unless the Planetary Scientists’ Rally Cry forces the government’s money hand. Earlier this month, the Obama administration released its 2014 budget, and NASA’s proposed funding is set for $17.7 billion, which is $50 million less they received in 2012. Planetary science, specifically, would be looking at $1.217 billion, which is about $268 million less funding than it received in 2013. Granted, some of that money is going into producing plutonium-238, which just started up again this year but has had its funding already shifted from the Department of Energy to NASA. There is also around $20 million going towards a manned asteroid research mission, but that’s still around $190 million of programs and research that might hit the cutting room floor, including a future robotic mission to Europa and the current Cassini and Messenger programs.

“Without immediate investment in technology and mission development — not possible under the FY14 proposal — the United States will go ‘radio dark’ in almost all regions of the solar system by the end of the decade,” wrote advocates for the Planetary Society in a testimony submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology. And then we just become the creepy hermit nation with the mountain man beard.

“While we fully understand that the funding levels enumerated in the bill and report are subject to change to reflect the across the board and sequester cuts,” wrote California Rep Adam Schiff and California Senator Dianne Feinstein to NASA administrator Charles Bolden, “we expect that the balance among programs will remain consistent with the structure directed by Congress. We appreciate your personal attention to this matter and look forward to working with you to ensure a workable and robust Planetary Sciences program.” California Senator Barbara Boxer and Texax Rep John Culberson also signed on to the letter.

And as far as we the general public go, Planetary Society chief executive officer Bill Nye – who called the cuts “shortsighted and disastrous” – is urging citizens to write their Congress representatives, telling them to empty some pocketbooks.

“You see that up there? That’s China, Russia and Japan, smiling down upon us.”

If Kickstarter can fund a movie, maybe some sub-contractor can start one up and funnel money into the agency illegally. Because doing things illegally is what makes our government just.