The fiscal year 2007 budget proposed by the Administration for NASA threatens to end a dazzling era of planetary exploration. Today, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Science, the Departments of State, Justice, and Commerce, and Related Agencies marked-up the NASA budget, prior to sending the budget to full Committee.
The subcommittee today approved a budget of $16.7 billion, $100 million less than that requested by the Administration. But, it restored $75 million (out of $330 million) of the funding that the Administration had cut from space science plans. The Committee directed $50 million of the science funding to help restore some of the research and analysis cuts. It also restored $100 million of planned cuts in aeronautics. However, to offset the restoration of these funds, additional cuts beyond those proposed by the Administration were made in space exploration program line items.
Especially noteworthy was $15 million directed for a mission to explore Europa, the icy moon of Jupiter, with a subsurface ocean that is considered by many scientists as a possible habitat for life. This had been cut out of the plan by the Administration, and The Planetary Society vigorously campaigned for its reinstatement. Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) has been a strong supporter of this mission. Funding for the Terrestrial Planet Finder mission was also provided, another mission that the Society strongly supported.
Louis Friedman, the Executive Director of The Planetary Society, issued the following statement regarding the mark-up:
"Today's mark-up considerably helps to restore science to its proper place in NASA's program, but it is only the first step in the Congressional process. The funding for exploring Europa is terrific news, and we hope NASA will embrace a new start for this project. Restoration of some additional science funding also helps, although 80% of the Administration cuts still remain. We will seek even broader Congressional support to continue restoring science funding."
Over the past few months, thousands of concerned members of the public have written their congressional representatives and signed The Planetary Society's petition in a worldwide SOS: Save Our Science campaign on behalf of planetary exploration. The Planetary Society has presented those signatures to Congress and has hosted for congressional staff a special presentation supporting science by filmmaker James Cameron, Bill Nye the Science Guy, planetary scientist Heidi Hammel, and Friedman.