The Planetary Society gives the Administration's proposed NASA budget a thumbs up for its increased funding for space and Earth science, more Earth observation satellites, firm support for robotic exploration of the solar system and the development of the new Ares/Orion launch vehicles to replace the space shuttle.
“Many decisions have to be made by the new Administration,” commented Louis Friedman, Executive Director of The Planetary Society, “but the strong support for science and exploration makes it clear that President Obama indeed wants the American space program to inspire the world with new discoveries.”
The Administration announced initiation of a blue-ribbon independent review of the Constellation program architecture, led by former Planetary Society board member, Norm Augustine. Constellation is NASA’s exploration program to take humans back to the Moon and eventually to Mars. “The independent review may help advance recommendations that The Planetary Society made in its Roadmap to Space,” Friedman added. “We have advocated that more international cooperation be incorporated into plans for the human return to the Moon, and this review is a chance to introduce exciting milestones on the road to Mars.”
Those milestones could be a Sun-Earth libration (gravitational equilibrium) point, and successively more distant Near-Earth asteroids, followed by reaching one of the Martian moons, Phobos or Deimos. The Society has recommended that NASA should first test and develop interplanetary flight capability beyond the Moon, creating new distance and endurance records for human space flight, before committing to another lunar landing.
“We appreciate the strong support for space science and exploration, but urge stronger emphasis on Mars, said Jim Bell, President of The Planetary Society. “It is the only other world capable of supporting life that is within the reach of human explorers; the planet should be the target of a robust robotic program to pave the way for future human missions.”
Funding for human and robotic Mars exploration was cut by more than a half-billion dollars in recent years, and the Society is advocating restoration of those funds.
The Planetary Society supports the decision to stay the course towards the retirement of the shuttle. The Administration’s proposed budget included a commitment to retire the shuttle after planned missions in 2009 and 2010.
Having strongly advocated an international Europa mission for many years, The Planetary Society was also gratified by the specific support given to the new Outer Planets Flagship Mission to Europa. There is a high probability that an ocean exists beneath the icy crust of that moon of Jupiter.
The increased funding for Earth science and the addition of four new Earth observation missions was especially welcome, as the Administration’s budget tries to make up for deep cuts in Earth science over the past several years.
Bill Nye the Science Guy®, Vice-President of the Society, said, "Climate change is going to be profound, and right now we don't understand it as well as we need to. Making observations of the Earth from space is vital to our future. Everyone has to appreciate that NASA does a lot more nowadays than it did when it sent people to the Moon. The Planetary Society strongly supports adding money to NASA's Earth monitoring budget. While many of us might think of NASA missions being sent to study atmospheric systems on other worlds, we need NASA missions to gather data about our Earth now more than ever."