Pasadena, CA (January 14, 2014) - The FY2014 Omnibus spending bill, now before the U.S. Congress, once again rejects cuts to NASA's Planetary Science Division that were sought by the White House. The Planetary Society commends Congress for this action, and strongly encourages the White House to prioritize Planetary Science in its future budget requests commensurate with its strong public and legislative support. The Society supports the passage of this bill for its additional Planetary Science funding as well as its overall funding levels allocated for NASA.
Congress plans to allocate $1.345 billion for NASA's Planetary Science Division, $127 million more than requested by the White House. We strongly support the increase, but note that the number is well below the program's historical average of $1.5 billion per year.
The additional funding ensures the steady development of the next major mission to Mars in 2020, which will store samples of the red planet for eventual return to Earth. It also provides $80 million for continued research into a flagship-class mission to explore Europa, the enigmatic moon of Jupiter that was recently revealed to be spouting its liquid-water ocean into space.
"Exploring Europa is no longer a 'should' but a 'must'," said Casey Dreier, The Planetary Society's Director of Advocacy, "Congress made a smart decision to continue studying the Europa Clipper mission concept. There is bipartisan support and strong public interest in exploring Europa, the mission is technically feasible, and it is high priority within the scientific community. The White House should embrace this bold search for life and request a new start for this mission in FY2015."
The Society also supports the congressional recommendation that NASA increase the pace of small planetary missions. We are particularly happy to see full congressional and White House support for restarting the nation's Plutonium-238 production capability, which provides electrical power for many planetary science missions that can't utilize solar panels.
The White House has requested cuts to planetary science for two years in a row, and for two years in a row Congress has rejected them. In light of this and the more than 50,000 messages sent to Congress and President Obama in support of NASA's planetary science program last year, we urge the Office of Management and Budget to recognize the unprecedented public and legislative support for solar system exploration, and propose $1.5 billion for this program in their FY2015 budget request.