Statement on H.R. 2039, the NASA Authorization Act for 2016 and 2017
NASA’s success comes from clear direction, bipartisan support, and sufficient funding for its science programs. The NASA Authorization bill (H.R. 2039) passed last week by the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee on a straight party-line vote does not represent the traditional consensus which has ensured that the nation achieves its goals in space. The Planetary Society does not support this bill because the cuts proposed to the Earth Science Division from FY2015 prevent this consensus and would limit NASA’s ability to implement the recommendations of its Earth science decadal survey.
Despite the significant flaw with the bill, there are many positive aspects. It authorizes a return to recent historical funding levels for NASA’s Planetary Science Division, countering a series of deep cuts to the program that began in 2013. It supports a mission to Europa in the 2020s and a high cadence of small and medium class planetary exploration missions. Restoring and reinvigorating NASA’s Planetary Science Division has been a priority for The Society over the past few years, and we were very pleased to see this included in this authorization bill and in previous, bipartisan authorization bills passed by this committee.
The bill also authorizes increases to NASA’s Astrophysics Division and provides clear policy direction for NASA to follow the scientific priorities set out by the National Research Council’s decadal surveys for all sciences. We thank the committee and the members of both parties for their consistent support in these areas.
However, the proposed cuts to NASA’s Earth Science Division prevent The Planetary Society from supporting the bill as passed by the committee. Understanding the forces acting on Earth’s environment as well as the impacts of climate change are important, and only NASA possesses the skills and expertise to build the scientific spacecraft required to conduct this research. As we know from similarly-sized Planetary Science Division reductions in 2013, cuts of this size within a short time period are inefficient and damage the overall health of the field.
As the NASA authorization bill moves through the legislative process, we urge Congress to build consensus by authorizing funding levels and policy direction that enable all sciences to successfully pursue their decadal survey recommendations.
About The Planetary Society
The Planetary Society has inspired millions of people to explore other worlds and seek other life. With the mission to empower the world's citizens to advance space science and exploration, its international membership makes the non-governmental Planetary Society the largest space interest group in the world. Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman founded The Planetary Society in 1980. Bill Nye, a longtime member of The Planetary Society's Board, serves as CEO.