The President's budget request for NASA was released about two weeks ago. This kicks off advocacy season for the next (fiscal) year at NASA. The Planetary Society weighed in last week with this official response to the White House's request which cut $65 million from Planetary Science, cut every other science division except for Heliophysics, and mothballed the SOFIA telescope. Here's a short excerpt:
The Planetary Society cannot fully support the FY2015 NASA Budget Request. While there are some positive aspects—particularly the newfound openness to exploring Europa and the continued science operations of most high-priority planetary missions—the request imposes unacceptable cuts to the Science Mission Directorate that damage the immediate and long-term health of some of NASA's most successful programs, particularly planetary exploration. If this budget is passed unchanged, there will be fewer planetary missions in development by 2019 than at any point in the past few decades.
The Obama White House is bequeathing a deeply troubled future of planetary exploration to its successors. Its FY2015 budget does not preserve a healthy program. As the current slate of missions reach the end of their lives, there are few ready to take their place exploring the solar system. We urge Congress to once again reject these cuts to NASA's Planetary Science Division, as well as to NASA's top-line and to the Science Mission Directorate. We urge Congress to, at the very minimum, preserve NASA's funding at FY14 levels and to restore planetary science to its historical average of $1.5 billion per year.
So the budget's been proposed. Now what happens? Here's a rough breakdown of what the Planetary Society has done and is planning to do. Note that future actions could change depending on external events and that this is not an exhaustive list. We will be doing far more than this.
But to start:
The Planetary Society's actions:
Submitted formal appropriations requests for a Planetary Science program at $1.5 billion for FY2015.
Submitted an official statement for the record [pdf] regarding the state of planetary science funding for the House Space Subcommittee's first hearing on the NASA budget (we will submit similar statements to the appropriations committees and the Senate space subcommittee as well).
Organized our response with the leadership of the major professional scientific organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the AAS's Division for Planetary Science, and the Geological Society of America.
Sent out a physical mail petition for a Europa mission and planetary science to tens of thousands of our members.
Made an online call-to-action for our members and supporters to write Congress and (for our international members) the President. As I write this, we have sent over 18,000 messages to Congress in the past two days.
The House of Representatives's Space Subcommittee holds a hearing on the NASA Budget request on Thursday, March 27th. This is an authorizing committee (i.e. they don't create spending bills), but they do set general NASA policy through their multi-year NASA Authorization bills. They will try to pass a new NASA Authorization bill this year.
The Planetary Society:
I will fly out to D.C. in April to meet with key congressional representatives about NASA science issues.
The Planetary Society board will meet to discuss big-picture space policy topics.
We double the amount of time of the Society's D.C. Consultant. He'll be able to spend more time working for Planetary Science and NASA issues in the Senate and the White House, in addition to previously strong work in the House. We are able to do this thanks to the outstanding monetary support from members of The Planetary Society for our advocacy program.
It's likely that the Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations subcommittee will hold a hearing on the NASA budget sometime in April, though that could slip into May. This is the subcommittee that actually creates the spending bills for NASA every year.
The Senate may also hold their equivalent appropriations hearing in April.
The Planetary Society will hold a special luncheon event in the Capitol building on May 7th to celebrate achievements and educate congressional staff and the public about NASA's Planetary Science program. Confirmed guests include Bill Nye, David Grinspoon, and Emily Lakdawalla. We will have more information about this soon.
Bill Nye and I will visit with key congressional staff and members of Congress in May.
If either the House or Senate appropriations committees haven't met by now, they likely will in the month of May.
We may see the initial drafts of the actual spending bills by the end of May in both the Senate and House.
Obviously, there will be lots more to come. Final votes on these spending bills will, ideally, occur before the fiscal year ends on October 1st. Unlike the previous few years, Congress has already agreed to top-line spending levels, plus it's an election year, so there should be a minimum of budget drama. We'll see.
The Society is working on additional educational materials, budget analysis, and ways you can take action. For now, make sure to write Congress if you haven't done so already. And if you've already written, take the next step and call your representative's offices. It's easier than you think.
There's a lot of work to do, but we are focused and ready to go. It's time to stand for space.