Louis D. FriedmanMay 19, 2009

Today's Hearing on NASA's FY 2010 Budget Request

by Louis D. Friedman, Executive Director of The Planetary Society

The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology today will be holding a hearing about the Obama Administration's budget request for fiscal year 2010. This hearing -- scheduled from 2-4:00 p.m. EDT -- is more about policy issues in NASA's program than about the actual money numbers in NASA's budget. Since the budget request includes 5 year projections, it provides a good look at plans for the development of new projects.

As Planetary Society members know, there are many critical issues now up for decision, including the future of human space flight and whether the commitment for human flight beyond Earth orbit will continue, and where it will be focused. Another major uncertainty is the future of the Mars program -- which after the Mars Science Laboratory in 2011 is totally undefined. The budget for future Mars exploration has been sharply reduced in recent years. The current proposal does not restore that funding.

We are worried about all of planetary exploration in the budget. The House Committee notes in its meeting charter: While the previous FY 09 budget request included new initiatives including a Mars Sample Return mission, an Outer Planets Flagship mission, and a Joint Dark Energy mission, among others, that could not realistically be accommodated within the FY 09 budget proposal, the FY 10 budget plan for space science no longer includes these or other major new initiatives. For example, NASA selected the Europa Jupiter System target as the focus of an Outer Planets Flagship mission, but elected to proceed with technology development, further definition, and discussions on a potential partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA) on a potential future mission. The FY 10 budget plan for planetary sciences does not include a Mars Sample Return mission. NASA officials have indicated their interest in working more closely with ESA on potential Mars missions for the 2016 and 2018 launch opportunities.

he competing priorities of Earth science, Constellation for replacing the shuttle and preparing human flight beyond Earth orbit, finishing up the International Space Station and restoration of space and aeronautics technology development leave little room in a constrained fiscal environment. We support all of these things -- but worry that something will have to give.

With this in mind, I will be watching today's hearing (via webcast). The only witness will be NASA Acting Administrator Christopher Scolese.

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