Emily LakdawallaFeb 05, 2008

NASA's 2009 budget

The President sent Congress his proposed 2009 budget yesterday, and it generally looks like excellent news for space science, though the Society does have some concerns about delays to the Mars program. You can read The Planetary Society's take on the 2009 budget in this article by Amir Alexander and also in this opinion by Lou Friedman. One thing I am not sure about is how the fact that it is an election year will affect NASA's budget. It is virtually certain that the Democrat-controlled Congress will be in no hurry to pass the budget, hoping to put things off until a possible future Democratic President is elected. Of course the Society will stay on top of the budget situation and let you know if and how anything changes.

The fact that the NASA comes out at all well in a budget that contains many proposed cuts to domestic spending owes a lot to the efforts of Alan Stern, the head of NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD). Here's a letter that Alan sent out to the space science community via the Planetary Exploration Newsletter (you should all sign up to receive this) where he describes his take on the news. I've gone through and spelled out some of the acronyms and added in some links.

04 February 2008

A month ago today I wrote you an email via NSPIRES [the NASA Solicitation and Proposal Integrated Review and Evaluation System, through which scientists learn about and submit mission and grant proposals] about the work being done in NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) to invigorate the flight and research programs we're administering.

Although there was good news to talk about then, I could not discuss the content of the President's FY09 [Fiscal Year 2009, which runs from October 1, 2008 through September 30, 2009] budget request and what that budget portends for SMD.

The President's FY09 budget was released today, so I am writing you again.

The news for NASA is good - we enjoyed a 1.8% funding increase that many other discretionary parts of the budget did not - and all of NASA's major programs are intact. As you can learn from reading budget documentation at http://www.nasa.gov, there are a host of important initiatives within NASA's budget request.

But in this message I want to focus on the highlights of the FY09 budget request as it affects SMD, and to be to the point: that news is also good.

To begin, the FY09 President's request augments two areas of SMD's budget significantly - Earth science and lunar science. More specifically, the budget request includes new initiatives to accelerate the recommended flight missions of the Earth Science Decadal Survey (NRC [National Research Council], 2007), and to fly small lunar science missions that respond to goals of the 2007 NRC report, "Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon".

Owing to budget wedges that are opening up as we launch a total of 13 orbital and planetary missions in 2008 and 2009, to some missions that we replanned to gain efficiencies, and to some cost increases that we avoided, the budget request for SMD is able to go beyond the Earth Science and lunar science initiatives I just mentioned, to also initiate missions in planetary science, in astrophysics, and in heliophysics.

In fact the President's budget request allows SMD to initiate 7 new space missions. And it is worth pointing out that this exceeds the number of new SMD missions initiated in the past three NASA budgets combined.

The 7 new missions to be initiated by the President's FY09 budget request span all four of SMD's Divisions; they are:

  • The Earth Science Division's SMAP soil moisture mission for launch in 2012 and IceSat II decadal survey mission for launch in 2015. Three additional Earth science decadal survey missions will be enabled by this budget request as well.
  • The Heliophysics Division's new, lower cost Solar Probe mission for launch in 2015.
  • The Planetary Science Division's long awaited Outer Planets Flagship for launch in 2016 or 2017, depending on the mission target and trajectory.
  • The Astrophysics Division's highly anticipated JDEM [NASA-DOE Joint Dark Energy Mission] for launch by 2015.
  • And two new lunar robotic missions - a small science orbiter to launch by 2011 and a pair of mini-landers for launch by 2014; these lunar missions are to be developed in SMD's Planetary Science Division.

The President's budget request also significantly increases R&A funding [Research and Analysis funding, the bread and butter of space science research] so that our program generates more discoveries and therefore provides the taxpayer with value from the missions we fly. The budget request also substantially increases funding for suborbital sounding rockets and balloon experiments in order to foster PI on-ramps [that is, opportunities for researchers to gain the necessary experience to become Principal Investigators on future missions], instrument technology demonstrations, and of course new science.

To learn more, you can find many details at http://www.nasa.gov .

Additionally we in SMD will be talking about this new budget at the next round of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) and NAC subcommittee meetings, at MOWGs [Management Operations Working Groups, informal advisory groups convened within NASA], with the leadership of professional societies such as the AGU [American Geophysical Union], AAS [American Astronomical Society], DPS [the Division of Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society], and AMS [American Meteorological Society], and at upcoming large scientific gatherings such as LPSC [the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference], AAS, and AGU.

The primary message I hope you have received from this note is that the future that the President's FY09 budget request paints is bright for SMD.

As I said in my message of January 4th, we continue to look to the Earth and space science research communities for advice, counsel, feedback, and most importantly, new results as we go forward, so I again invite that advice through your NAC subcommittees and professional societies.

I hope to see many of you in meetings and other venues in the coming weeks. In the meantime, best wishes.

Alan Stern

The Planetary Fund

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