It can't be easy to bring Nobel Prize laureates and high government officials together over the same issue. But two Planetary Society board members, Scott Hubbard and John Logsdon, have done it -- and produced a letter to Rep. Bart Gordon, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Science Committee, expressing concern about that committee's proposed budget for NASA that is signed by 14 Nobel winners and 14 former NASA officials.
As the incoming Executive Director of the Planetary Society, they asked me to sign it along with them. Once again, I find myself in remarkable company. These are some distinguished and thoughtful space people. With Scott and John's lead, we quickly came together in support of NASA programs that we feel are critical to advancing exploration of worlds, both robotic and human.
If the House bill is passed as is, four program areas are of particular concern.
Technology Development -- The technology we have right now to reach and explore space is too expensive. To make space exploration affordable, NASA must lead the way, nurturing new technology and invention. Right now, the House bill essentially eliminates the Exploration Technology Program. That's a mistake that our representatives have to correct. NASA must be given the money to create the future in space.
Commercial Spaceflight -- If NASA is to reach beyond the Moon and someday reach Mars, it must be relieved of the burden of launching people and cargo to low earth orbit. To do that, we must invest more in commercial spaceflight. The proposed House-Senate authorization bill would spend $900 million on buying seats on Soyuz rockets, while giving $450 million to develop commercial crew launchers and $14 million for cargo rockets. These funds need to be reallocated.
Robotic Precursors -- Since the days of Apollo, NASA has sent robot spacecraft to scout another world before sending humans there to explore. The Robotic Precursor program was cancelled after one mission (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter) so the money could be diverted to the Constellation program. If we're serious about advancing exploration of our Solar System and sending humans to other worlds, that money must be restored.
University and Student Research -- One of NASA's big responsibilities is to inspire. Part of the agency's mission is to excite students and boost them into careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. NASA's university education funding comes from its science and technology budgets. With the technology budget cut, there's not enough money for these educational programs. That budget line needs to be increased.
Since the Administration released its NASA budget for fiscal year 2011, the leadership of the Planetary Society has been working to make sure NASA gets its increased funding and sets a new direction for human spaceflight. I signed this letter as Executive Director Designate of the Planetary Society. I'm going to keep working to help explorers from Earth travel to new places in our Solar System.
(And if you want to read the full text of the letter, and see everyone who signed it, you can find it here.)