If it’s not a race, why am I so out of breath?

Posted by barb on May 21, 2004 in Science Musings |

I found this transcript of O’Keefe’s tesitmony before the House Appropriations Committee last month (April 21) while looking for press releases.

Frankly, I found the chairman’s comments before O’Keefe’s testimony more interesting that the testimony itself. He gives a summary of what the proposed budget cuts will to do various NASA projects.

For example, let’s look at the initial fiscal year ’04 operating plan, in which significant changes open the door to more radical changes and follow-on to fiscal year ’04 operating plans.

In the space science enterprise, they include cuts to Project Prometheus, cuts to Space Science Technologies and Advanced Concepts, Constellation X and re-submissions, cuts to the Living With a Star, totally about $150 million.

There are even more specific cuts, delays and cancellations in the fiscal year ’05 budget proposal. For example, in the Space Science Enterprise, Hubble’s fourth servicing mission is canceled. The Jupiter Icy Moon’s orbiter mission is delayed by three years. Explorer Constellation X and re-submissions are delayed. In the Earth science enterprise, global precipitation missions and the Earth systems path-finders are deferred. Research and technology funding is frozen.

In the biological and physical science enterprise, research in International Space Station is cut by $1.2 billion from fiscal year ’05 to fiscal year ’09.

In cross-cutting technologies, next-generation launch technologies are terminated.

I have the feeling that much of the public thinks that all of NASA stands firmly behind the moon/Mars plan. The truth is that the new vision is a boon for a few select divisions at NASA, but that many science programs are going to suffer. Programs that have been under developement for years and that were promised ful funding in FY04. Those programs are now fighting to stay afloat. The plan cuts into much of the “real science” that NASA has been nurturing in favor of a flashy new vision.

I’m not saying that NASA shouldn’t have a unified vision. I’m also not saying that a plan to send humans back to the moon and beyond is not an exciting vision. The problem is the speed and voracity with which the administration is trying to implement the plan.

The chairman also quoted from Bush’s January 14th speech:

The president in his January 14th announcement of this proposal stated, and I quote, The vision I outline today is a journey, not a race, end of quote.

It seems that the speed with which NASA seeks to implement this proposal certainly makes us feel like we’re in a race.

I absolutely agree that NASA needs a unifying vision for the future, and I see that the public has had a hard time grasping the work that NASA has done over the past several years. However, the administration changes and budget cuts (for select programs) have been so swift and unexpected that it smacks of a desparation on the part of the executive branch to leave its mark on NASA and NASA’s future.

Sending men and women to Mars is exciting, but it needs more than a few committee meetings and the presidential stamp of approval before it overturns strong science efforts. Nor does it need to muscle it’s way past missions that promise to unlock some of the long-standing mysteries of the Universe.

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