Save Our Science: FAQ
What's at risk and what you can do to help
What's going on with NASA funding?
For the fiscal year 2013, Congress appropriated $17.8 for NASA. Due to the sequester and an additional "rescission" mandated by Congress, NASA's actual budget for 2013 is almost a billion dollars less than what the President requested.
The President's original request contained a $309 million cut to the Planetary Sciences Division within NASA, representing nearly a fifth of its budget. The cuts were enough to prevent any further development of missions like MSL Curiosity or Cassini, and would severely curtail NASA's ability to even support active missions. Congress rejected this cut and restored most of the funding back to Planetary Science in their funding bill for 2013.
What is the Planetary Sciences division? Isn't it all NASA?
The Planetary Science division is a program within NASA that is responsible for all robotic planetary exploration missions. This includes funding current missions, like Cassini at Saturn, Opportunity and Curiosity on Mars, and the twin Voyager probes, as well as developing future missions. It has its own budget line within the division. This is what's being cut.
What is the budget for Planetary Sciences? It must be a lot.
It's not. The total 2013 budget for the Planetary Sciences Division within NASA is $1.42 billion, before the sequester. This is less than what Americans spent on dog toys last year.
Where does the rest of NASA's budget go?
NASA's budget is distributed very specifically within the agency to a variety of different directorates. A portion of this money goes to human spaceflight, another portion goes to run the NASA centers around the country, and another portion funds all science within NASA. The science budget for NASA in 2013 is about $5 billion.
Within this science funding allotment, the money is again divided by program: Earth science, heliophysics, astronomy, the James Webb Space Telescope, and planetary science. The Planetary Science Division had been funded at about $1.5 billion/yr for the past few years, which is about 8% of NASA's budget, and 0.04% of the total federal budget. Maintaining this small investment in solar system exploration is one of our primary concerns here at the Planetary Society.
Why was planetary science being targeted for cuts? Isn't it really successful?
NASA's planetary science division has been extremely successful. The last major mission failure was CONTOUR in 2002, meaning that we've enjoyed a decade of unbroken success, no easy task in the unforgiving complexities of space travel.
It's not entirely clear why the planetary sciences division faces a disproportionate cut compared to other divisions within NASA. The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is an unrelated project that faces major cost overruns. Since it lives within NASA's Science division, the money to pay for the project has to come from other science programs only—not any other part of NASA. Some of the loss in planetary science funding was clearly because of JWST, but only the staffers at the Office of Management and Budget know why they singled out planetary science to the degree that it is.
The government is broke. How can we afford this?
There are issues with the federal deficit, but planetary science (or NASA as a whole) is not what's causing them. Spending on NASA amounts to 0.5% of the total budget, and planetary science is about 8% of that. If you de-funded NASA in its entirety it would only reduce this year's deficit by 1.4%, a negligible amount.
Below is a graph showing estimated government spending for 2013 as proposed by President Obama. On the right is estimated government spending for 2013 with restored funding for Planetary Science. Try to spot the difference.
The Planetary Society believes that the very small investments we make in cutting-edge research and technology has a huge rate of return and is worth funding even in lean times.
What Has The Planetary Society Done So Far?
A lot! We've organized letter-writing campaigns, sent our lobbyist out on capitol hill, met with congressional representatives face-to-face and on the phone, and worked with other organizations like the Division of Planetary Sciences and the American Geophysical Union. We continue to need support from people like you to keep the pressure on both Congress and the Office of Management and Budget to reverse these cuts. We're building a strong and active program that actively lobbies for space exploration on behalf of our members.
How can I help?
You can help by being politically engaged and contacting your representatives and the President on this issue (check out the sidebar section for any current action alerts). Merely being a member of the Planetary Society helps, as it allows us to coordinate our members with letter-writing campaigns and provides us with the financial resources to pursue an aggressive counter to these cuts. Donating to our advocacy campaign is also a good way to help out, as it provides us additional financial support to use our lobbyist, and fly staff members and Bill Nye out to Washington.
They are Watching the Skies for You!
Our researchers, worldwide, do absolutely critical work.
Asteroid 2012DA14 was a close one.
It missed us. But there are more out there.