Kirby RunyonMar 21, 2014

Calling Congress Is Easy

Calling your senators and representatives (if you're a US citizen) about NASA's budget isn't that bad. In fact, I just took 15 minutes out of my schedule at LPSC to do it! If you're not sure what to say, I hope you'll be inspired by what I've transcribed below of my three phone calls this afternoon.

[Staffer of my Senators or Representative]: Thank you for calling Senator____'s office. How may I help you?

[Me]: Hi, my name is Kirby Runyon, and I'm a constituent of Sen_____. I'd like to make some comments on the President's FY'15 budget request as it goes to Congress, please.

[Staffer]: OK, go ahead.

[Me]: I'm PhD student at Johns Hopkins University studying planetary geology. We get much of our data from NASA's fleet of robotic spacecraft spread throughout the solar system from literally Mercury to Pluto, and many of us—especially once we graduate—will make our living writing grant proposals to NASA to analyze the data that the spacecraft return. Now, the President, to his credit, seems to recognize the importance of investing in basic scientific research, yet in his budget requests for NASA's Planetary Science Division he consistently requests far below NASA's historical average of $1.5 billion/year, which is what I'm advocating.

Furthermore, in addition to human spaceflight and astrophysics, planetary science is one of NASA's most visible programs and is immensely popular with the general public, and for the President to request only $1.3 billion is beyond me and seems inconsistent with his stated belief in the importance of basic scientific research.

With such a cut from the historical average, NASA may be faced with some tough choices that we're beginning to see, from turning off functioning spacecraft—which common sense dictates you just don't do!—to cutting funding for the scientists who analyze the data. I hate to reduce planetary science to a government jobs program, so I want to emphasize that since planetary science is such a small field in the world relative to other disciplines, even a small reduction in the number of planetary scientists would do a lot of harm to society's collective awareness of other places in space.

So, to sum up, I'd like to advocate a budget of $1.5 billion a year for one of NASA's most prominent programs, planetary science. I also want to thank Senator___ for their work to support NASA already to date. I'm glad to be their constituent.

[Staffer]: OK, I've gotten that down and I'll be sure to pass that along. Thank you for calling.

See, that wasn't so bad, was it? This is something everyone--scientist or interested Planetary Society Member--can do to actually, as Bill Nye is fond (and rightly so!) of saying, change the world!

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