Garry Hunt brings a distinctive perspective to the now-raging debate over the cuts to NASA's science program proposed in the Administration's fiscal year 2013 budget. In his scientific career, Garry worked for JPL/NASA on the Viking mission to Mars and Voyager's Grand Tour of the outer planets and beyond. He left science to enter the world of business and now serves as Managing Partner of Elbury Enterprises in the United Kingdom. Observing the budget battle from these two points of view, Garry sees damage extending beyond the loss of planetary missions and reaching the world of business and commerce.
As a member of The Planetary Society's Council of Advisors, he shares his thoughts here on the cuts to NASA science. (For The Planetary Society's position, please see "NASA Budget Pushes Science to the Brink.")
The news that the US Administration is proposing a substantial reduction in the NASA budget has sent shock waves of alarm throughout the international science community. The planetary science programme will be drastically affected. The news of the cuts was immediately accompanied by numerous protests from a wide science community concerned with the exploration of the solar system and the search for life on other worlds. These immediate protests by scientists are to be expected. I am sure, in my original career as a space scientist, I would have been part of these protests, quickly voicing my own objections to these cuts which will take away opportunities to continue research activities that have changed our collective views of the Earth and planets through these past decades of planetary exploration.
But will these shouts of horror, letters to the press, protest speeches by members of the science community at conferences and to political committees, carry much weight with the politicians and administrators responsible for this cut in the NASA budget? I doubt it. But I do believe there should be vigorous protests from the business and commercial communities about this short sighted decision by the US Administration as the effects are far greater than science alone.
The US is a leading industrial nation, which thrives on wealth creation by individuals and corporations, creating an entrepreneurial culture of innovation with the exploitation of science and technology. As a nation it must balance its budget, generating revenue through millions of companies large and small while also requiring high employment to gain income for the nation through various levels of taxation. But these proposed cuts in the NASA budget are then in complete opposition to this financial equation and the well established US working culture.
NASA's budget supports activities that are an enabler for national and individual wealth creation, from which further scientific knowledge is ultimately gained. NASA's space exploration activities are then not just scientific research. Many of the recent developments in engineering, communications, information technology, robotics are just some of the areas where enormous advancements have been made as a consequence of the activities during such missions as Voyager, Viking, Cassini, Mars Rovers, from which the US, many developed and developing nations of the world, businesses, companies and individuals have all benefited. Furthermore these activities and their associated mission activities, also create many jobs for the numerous commercial companies, large and small which then add to the US culture of wealth creation.
The proposed reduction in the NASA budget is, in my opinion, very short sighted. It has been made by people who do not understand the full picture nor the implications of their decision, which are far broader than just science.