The Planetary Society delivered a petition on Friday, January 19, 2007, with more than 5,000 signatures to the White House calling on President Bush to restore funding for space science and exploration in his 2008 budget proposal to the U.S. Congress.
"Space science and exploration are inseparable," stated Louis Friedman. "The Administration is cutting missions of scientific exploration and research to pay for space transportation; this will diminish public support and interest in the space program."
Last year, the Administration's budget slashed funding for astrobiology programs by 50%, and reduced solar system research by 26% from earlier plans. They had also cut several important missions, including both a Europa mission to investigate a possible habitat for life beyond Earth and the Terrestrial Planet Finder, a search for Earth-like worlds elsewhere in the galaxy. The Administration earlier in the year cut all work on a Mars Sample Return mission and precursor activities for human exploration of the Red Planet.
For nearly a year, The Planetary Society has rallied public opposition against these cuts with a campaign called Save Our Science (SOS). The campaign claimed some success in 2006 when the House of Representatives voted to restore partial funding: $75 million (out of a cut of $330 million). Especially noteworthy was $15 million directed for a mission to explore Europa, the icy moon of Jupiter, whose subsurface ocean is considered by many scientists as the most likely place in the solar system to find other forms of life. Funding was also provided for the Terrestrial Planet Finder mission, another mission that the Society strongly supported. The Senate also passed an Appropriations bill with extra funding for NASA, intended, in part, to alleviate the space science cuts.
However, Congress adjourned without final action on the federal budget, and all agencies in the government are now operating on a bill that sets funding at the 2006 levels with no direction as to how that money should be allocated. The cuts in science, therefore, remain in place unless the Administration reverses them in its fiscal year 2008 plan.
Friedman noted, "Additional cuts in 2008 are possible unless Congress intervenes. The NASA Administrator has already stated that he is willing to reallocate funds from other programs in NASA, such as space science, to pay for the new Ares launch vehicle."
The Planetary Society delivered the petition to the President's Science Advisor at the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the White House.