American Astronomical Society Calls Cuts to NASA Science Funding a Threat to US Pre-eminence in Space

May 02, 2005, 01:00 ET from American Astronomical Society

    WASHINGTON, May 2 /PRNewswire/ -- The American Astronomical Society
 released a statement today (included in whole below and available at the AAS
 website ( decrying the
 recently announced cuts to NASA astrophysics funding.
     AAS President Robert Kirshner said, "NASA is having a tough time paying
 for its superb science program.  This year's choice to omit support of
 individual astronomers is very painful for astronomers and could lead to
 serious damage in the long run.  We have to work with NASA to make sure that
 the president's exploration vision is firmly linked to a broad view of the
 science NASA does so well."
     David Black, chair of the AAS Committee on Astronomy and Public Policy
     "The budget pressures that NASA and its Science Mission Directorate face
 are significant.  Much of the problem is due to a substantial increase in
 Congressional earmarks, so the need for action by NASA is clear.  The problem
 with the steps that have been taken by NASA are twofold.  First, the Research
 and Analysis programs that have been hit with cuts are the seed stock of the
 nation's future talent, and reducing them at a time when there is a new
 Administrator charged with implementing the President's call for expanded
 exploration, is hard to rationalize.  Second, there is concern that we may be
 seeing a dangerous precedent for future tight budget years.  Continued
 reductions like these could put our nation's stature as a leader in space, and
 the benefits that flow from that leadership, at risk."
     The American Astronomical Society is the primary professional organization
 for astronomers and astrophysicists in the United States with more than 6,000
 current members.  In addition, the Society publishes the major research
 journals in the fields of astronomy and astrophysics and holds biannual
 meetings to highlight research performed by astronomers worldwide.  The AAS
 works actively to further astronomy and astrophysics research in the United
 States and internationally.  The Society web page is
     NASA's science programs have provided -- and continue to provide -- the
 Nation with a strong return on its investment in space exploration. Essential
 elements of this return are NASA's data analysis programs associated with
 specific missions and its research and analysis (R&A) programs that fund more
 general research that guides and informs future space missions.  These R&A
 programs are critical for training the next generation of scientists and
 assuring the nation of continued leadership in space exploration.
     NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) budget for FY 2005 has come under
 intense pressure with required reductions of several hundred million dollars
 arising from costs of returning the shuttle fleet to flight, unplanned
 expenses associated with the Hubble Space Telescope, and a record level of
 unfunded congressional earmarks.  As a result, NASA has announced a series of
 terminations of new mission opportunities, as well as cutbacks in key R&A
 programs for the coming year.
     Reductions in R&A programs have a disproportionate long-term impact for
 the small amount of money saved. These reductions compromise a major vehicle
 for recruiting and developing younger researchers, and therefore, the cuts
 correspond to the loss of scientists and the capabilities they bring to our
 national space efforts. The President is calling for expanded exploration.
 Cutting R&A programs and thereby reducing our capacity to explore cannot
 accomplish that.
     Budget actions taken at this time can set dangerous precedents for
 upcoming years, as prospects for NASA's future budget appear no better than
 for FY2005.  To ensure that long-term priorities are preserved and that
 science return is maximized in a reduced funding environment, NASA should
 involve members of the science community in a current assessment of missions
 before finalizing decisions on possible mission terminations. What is at stake
 is American pre-eminence in space science and the scientific, educational and
 economic benefits that flow from that enterprise.

SOURCE American Astronomical Society