NASA's budget should be increased as was originally envisioned in order to restore its scientific underpinnings and to prepare for human exploration of the solar system," Louis Friedman, Executive Director of the Planetary Society, today testified to the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies.
The Society supports the Administration's Vision for Space Exploration, but noted that it has now become distorted, with valuable science and exploration missions being cannibalized to pay for it. Friedman noted that the Vision's first goal calls for "a sustained and affordable human and robotic program to explore the solar system and beyond." However, the robotic program has been severely cut and underfunded, and the human program scarcely mentions exploration beyond the moon.
Another goal is to "Undertake lunar exploration activities to enable sustained human and robotic exploration of Mars and more distant destinations in the solar system." Instead, the current budget nearly eliminates Mars robotic exploration in the next decade, and lunar exploration activities have been subsumed by a costly plan to construct a permanent lunar base.
NASA is also abandoning the Vision's goals to search for evidence of life itself on Mars and elsewhere in the solar system, as well as to conduct telescope searches for Earth-like planets. Mars exploration has been cut, the mission to Jupiter's moon Europa and the Terrestrial Planet Finder mission have been eliminated, and the search for extraterrestrial life has been cut in half.
"These contradictions between the conduct of the NASA program and the originally stated Vision for Space Exploration explain why The Planetary Society supports the Vision but opposes its current implementation plan," says the Society's statement.
Not only will cuts in funding for research and technology gut NASA's current science and exploration programs, but they will undermine the agency's ability to develop future missions by driving away young scientists and engineers from the field, thus, mortgaging the future of NASA science and exploration.
The Planetary Society also advises that the US look to more international cooperation with nations such as Japan, China, India and Russia that are all planning lunar missions. In fact, the Society has called for an International Lunar Decade, in which the spacefaring nations of the world can cooperate to advance their exploration objectives, and in which the developing world can share in the benefits of space science and exploration.
The Society statement also strongly supports the importance of "understanding the Earth," and calls upon Congress to support both planetary science, which contributes to that understanding, and budget increases to permit additional observations of Earth from space.
The concluding paragraph of The Planetary Society's testimony reads:
"This past year, NASA dropped 'understanding the Earth' from its mission statement. The Planetary Society picked it up, and added it to our own mission statement. But we cannot pick up the budget for the planetary and Earth science that has been cut from the NASA budget. Congress must do that. We urge Congress to help NASA achieve the goals articulated in the Vision for Space Exploration, for the benefit of our future, and our children's' future. Save Our Science."