Heidi HammelJan 22, 2014

A Note on the State of Planetary Science

Note: this post originally appeard on the Division of Planetary Science's website on 01/22/2014 as "A Note from the Chair" and is reproduced below (slightly modified) with permission. --ed

Washington D.C. may be currently covered in snow, but warm fuzzies abound here as a 2014 budget has passed into law.  Take a deep breath, and think about the planetary science community’s successes. We’ve secured $1.3 Billion dollars to do planetary exploration. Our missions are healthy: Cassini, Curiosity, MESSENGER, JUNO, and more. ESA’s ROSETTA mission successfully reawakened from hibernation, ready to go comet hunting. Europa got a big boost with the news from the Hubble Space Telescope hinting at tidally-driven water geysers. What have you done to share this news with your family, your community, your representatives in Washington? Drop me a line; I’d like to share some of your stories.

If you are a scientist concerned about NASA’s Research and Analysis reorganization, please communicate your thoughts with the members of the Planetary Science Subcommittee (PSS), as well as the members of the various assessment groups. The input will be considered soon, so take the time now to share your opinions about this draft rollout with the assessment group chairs and PSS, especially thoughts on how to improve the rollout.

Remember Carl Sagan’s TV show, Cosmos?  There is a new version, Cosmos – A Spacetime Odyssey (see its trailer) hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson on Fox. Wait, why Fox, you ask, aren’t they anti-science?  The answer is: indeed Fox - because of the people who watch Fox. These are precisely the people we need to reach if we want to rekindle a fire for space science exploration in the heart of America. The premier episode airs on 9 March 2014. Leverage this: offer to be the host at a Cosmos kick-off event at your local library or middle school; invite your non-astronomy buddies over to watch an episode of Cosmos. Let me know some of your other ideas.

Finally, planetary science was featured in the New York Times today.  Kenneth Chang examined fiscal limitations that may affect some upcoming decisions, including the Senior Reviews of Cassini and Curiosity. As Chang points out in his closing sentences, after the late 1980s when NASA planetary science was truly threatened and a ten-year-long cessation of planetary launches ensued, our community regrouped. The resultant priorities developed into the Cassini mission, and eventually the reinvigorated Mars program and all the missions in flight today. Those of us who were young planetary scientists during that dark decade of no missions (which encompassed my entire grad-school career) did not despair.  We kept the faith, we imagined the future robust program, and we worked to create the program we have now. I adjure you to keep the faith now. Focus on the future. Make your dreams real.

Dr. Heidi B. Hammel is the Executive Vice President of AURA, which operates the Hubble Space Telescope and many other observatories.  She is the current Chair of the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society. She also serves as the Vice President of The Planetary Society.

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