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Planetary Society Says NASA Budget Proposal Inadequate

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
March 15, 2014
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Planetary_Society_LogoPASADENA, Calif. (TPS PR) — The Planetary Society cannot fully support the FY2015 NASA Budget Request. While there are some positive aspects—particularly the newfound openness to exploring Europa and the continued science operations of most high-priority planetary missions—the request imposes unacceptable cuts to the Science Mission Directorate that damage the immediate and long-term health of some of NASA’s most successful programs, particularly planetary exploration. If this budget is passed unchanged, there will be fewer planetary missions in development by 2019 than at any point in the past few decades (Fig. 1).

“Planetary science is what NASA does best right now,” said Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye. “It’s where we get the greatest return on our investment, because the engineers and scientists are solving new problems, exploring new places, and making new discoveries. It drives innovation, which in turn drives our economy like no other. This is not where we should be pulling back.”


Planetary Funding and Missions
Figure (1): Funding level of NASA’s Planetary Science Division from 2003 – 2019, adjusted for inflation, and displaying the number of missions planned to be in development according to NASA Budget requests during this period. Modifications to the budget have been made to preserve programmatic consistency. Note that by the end of the decade the Division is working only two new missions while maintaining an aging set of spacecraft, funding Pu-238 development, scientific research, and NEO detection, as well as a few instruments on foreign missions. Raw data and methods are available at (Credit: Lori Dajose/Michael Wong/Casey Dreier for the Planetary Society)

The White House and its Office of Management and Budget have continued their assault on NASA’s Planetary Science Division, requesting cuts to the program for the third year in a row despite consistent opposition from Congress, the scientific community, and the public. Though the proposed cuts in FY2015 are smaller than in recent years, they still represent a loss of over $200 million from the Division’s historical average, and would ensure the continued decline of NASA’s planetary exploration program through the decade.

We once again urge Congress to restore funding for planetary science to its historical average of $1.5 billion to maintain a balanced program of small missions, Mars exploration, and a major scientific mission to Europa.

“There is serious cause for concern if not outright alarm,” said Planetary Society President Dr. Jim Bell. “While the Administration’s request for planetary science includes some steps in the right direction, we are concerned with the lack of future funding for Opportunity, which continues to perform outstanding science on the Red Planet, the lack of funding for LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter), which is providing key measurements needed for the future exploration of the Moon, and the lack of funding for the SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) airborne observatory in Astrophysics, which has only recently begun full science operations and which can make important contributions to solar system and extrasolar planetary astronomy.”

In addition to cuts to planetary science, the White House proposes cuts throughout NASA, including $186 million cut to the agency’s total budget, a $179 million cut to the Science Mission Directorate, a $61 million cut to Astrophysics, a $56 million cut to Earth Science, and a $27 million cut to the Office of Education. These cuts endanger still-productive missions by placing their funding in the supplemental Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative (OGSI) and not the actual budget request. They also indefinitely delay the next medium-class “New Frontiers” planetary mission and make continued operations of the SOFIA airborne telescope contingent on funding from our international partners.

However, The Planetary Society was very pleased to see Europa mentioned in the FY2015 request. After last year’s discovery of water plumes erupting from Europa’s south pole, we called on NASA and the White House to embrace a new mission to explore this compelling destination. To sample Europa’s water, a spacecraft could simply fly through these plumes instead of landing and drilling through the moon’s icy crust, greatly reducing the complexity of this first analysis. “The Administration’s acknowledgement of the importance of a new mission to Europa is encouraging,” said Bell, “but the specific funding to be allocated would represent only tentative steps.”

The Europa Clipper Spacecraft Concept The Clipper spacecraft flies over the surface of Europa in this artist's rendering. NASA is currently studying this reduced-cost mission which would use at least 48 flybys to explore the moon instead of entering into orbit. (Credit: NASA / JPL / Michael Carroll)

The Europa Clipper Spacecraft Concept
The Clipper spacecraft flies over the surface of Europa in this artist’s rendering. NASA is currently studying this reduced-cost mission which would use at least 48 flybys to explore the moon instead of entering into orbit. (Credit: NASA / JPL / Michael Carroll)

The budget request projects no funding for a Europa mission beyond 2015, though statements made by NASA leadership suggest they are pursuing one with a cost-cap of $1 billion—less than half the estimate of the already reduced-cost “Clipper” concept. This approach raises questions about adequate scientific return from such a cost-constrained mission. Now that NASA and the White House have accepted the importance of exploring Europa, we strongly urge them to pursue a mission that achieves a preponderance of the scientific goals as laid out in the National Research Council’s 2011 “Visions and Voyages” decadal survey report. The Planetary Society looks forward to the results from the upcoming Request For Information on a reduced-cost concept to see if these science goals can be preserved.

The Society strongly supports the budget request’s continued funding for most active planetary science missions, including both the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover and the Cassini Saturn orbiter. The proposed budget does include a more realistic funding profile for the Mars 2020 sample-caching rover, helping to ensure that this mission remains on-budget and on time.

We were also pleased to see increased funding for the Commercial Crew program, which could help to provide new technologies and opportunities for space science and exploration; steady funding for the James Webb Space Telescope, which will acquire important new solar system science data sets; and the InSight mission to Mars, which would provide the first measurements of the level of seismic activity of the Red Planet’s interior. NASA’s Asteroid Initiative provides crucial funding for near-Earth object detection, though we look forward to learning more details about the asteroid capture and redirect mission.

FY2015 will be another historic year for planetary exploration: the New Frontiers-class New Horizons mission will fly by Pluto; the Discovery-class Dawn mission will orbit Ceres, the asteroid belt’s largest object; and the flagship-class Curiosity rover will reach the base of Mt. Sharp, a 5 km-tall Martian mountain. These are true feats of exploration, and all of them were initiated by the previous Presidential administration. There is still time for this administration to leave its own positive legacy.

But right now the Obama White House is bequeathing a deeply troubled future of planetary exploration to its successors. Its FY2015 budget does not preserve a healthy program. As the current slate of missions reach the end of their lives, there are few ready to take their place exploring the solar system. We urge Congress to once again reject these cuts to NASA’s Planetary Science Division, as well as to NASA’s top-line and to the Science Mission Directorate. We urge Congress to, at the very minimum, preserve NASA’s funding at FY14 levels and to restore planetary science to its historical average of $1.5 billion per year.

About the Planetary Society

The Planetary Society has inspired millions of people to explore other worlds and seek other life. Today, its international membership makes the non-governmental Planetary Society the largest space interest group in the world. Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman founded the Planetary Society in 1980. Bill Nye, a long time member of the Planetary Society’s Board, serves as CEO.

18 responses to “Planetary Society Says NASA Budget Proposal Inadequate”

  1. therealdmt says:

    The sad part is, the money is there (SLS/Orion)…

  2. therealdmt says:

    Good point — the Webb has been a real money pit and directly competes with planetary missions.

    • windbourne says:

      also competes against private space. That is why when I knock the neo-cons for the SLS, you also have to include that dem from maryland (barbara something or other).

      • Terry Rawnsley says:

        I’m not conservative but do have a basic question that has not been answered. Why should taxpayers help to fund development of space vehicles that will theoretically be sold back to the government at a profit – or worse yet, will be rented to the government? In addition, why are we helping to finance R&D that will result in exclusive-use patents for the companies we funded?
        I’m in favor of commercial space. I just have a problem with how it is being funded.

        • windbourne says:

          Actually, I just answered this over on another of your posts.
          In a nutshell, taxpayers did not full fund SpaceX. They DID help get it going. That is true. BUT, with the savings from cheaper launches, it more than paid for itself. Shoots, with just these 3 launches of SpaceX for ISS resupply, they have saved NASA more money than what it would have cost us to have ULA do JUST THE LAUNCH VEHICLE (let alone a capsule, etc).

          Also, nearly all of the IP that private space companies develop to solve an issue on SLS, Constellation, etc. belongs to those companies, not to NASA.
          IFF NASA develops it, then it belongs to them. Things like Transhab belonged to NASA. BUT, a large amount of IP was developed for the Shuttle and Constellation, and that all belongs to L-Mart, etc.

          ———————— this is from the other posting ———-

          Lets back up here.

          When Apollo, the shuttle, Constellation, and now the SLS are built, who builds it? The answer is private space. Who pays for it? The public.

          Now, the interesting part is, who owns the IP? MOST OF IT REMAINS IN PRIVATE SPACE. Yes, nearly all of the IP associated with building these are NOT NASA’s but private space. The only issue is that NASA owns the equipment and then it is CONgress that decides how and how will run it. NOT NASA.

          OTOH, having MULTIPLE private space firms do the things that are already moderately well researched, allows them to compete against each other and lower the prices. EELV was a disaster because it was 2 massively large companies that are used to sucking the front gov. teat (and they continue to do just that). In addition, the shuttle was a joke because Nixon forced it on NASA, and then CONgress made it worse.

          BUT, COTS has allowed 2 companies to go forward with new rockets. Now one of them is a total joke. OSC owns no IP related to their launch. They have outsourced just about everything to outside of the US. Fine. BUT, they slit their own throat. NASA will use them for another 5 years, but after that, NASA will not be using them for launch. Neither will DOD. And private space does very little with them on launchers. So, OSC destroyed their one best chance at making a new future.

          However, we now have SpaceX who was helped by COTS and NASA. They are now forcing ULA, Boeing, and L-Mart to change directions.

          What is needed is another fresh start for another rocket company. If we kill off SLS (which we have pumped 3B / year for almost 10 years, if you include the constellation on this as well), and create a COTS for 2 SHLV, I have no doubt that another decent company will come out of it. Why? Because they will have no choice but to take on SpaceX. As such, they MUST come close, or beat them in price and performance.

          And with 2 SHLV ready around 2020, it will enable us to go to mars AND the moon. And yes, we really need TWO SHLVs. We already know what happens when accidents happen, and plenty more WILL happen.

          BTW, if we have private space truly handling launch, then it enables NASA to focus on what they are best at: Cutting edge research and ideas that private companies can not/will not do. For example, why would a private company spend money on going to Europa? They won’t. Likewise, who would spend money on building NWST? Again, none.

          BUT, NASA can. And that is what NASA was meant to do. We simply need to return NASA to its roots and allow private companies to handle things the way that they used to.

          • Paul451 says:

            taxpayers did not full fund SpaceX. They DID help get it going.

            Pedantically, taxpayers didn’t help SpaceX start. Musk and some friends funding the development of Merlin 1 and Falcon 1. Taxpayers (through COTS) allowed SpaceX to skip over Falcon 5 and jump straight into Falcon 9 and Dragon.

            [More pedantically, taxpayers paid for some of the knowledge, via NASA research, that allowed SpaceX to revolutionise rocket production; making the whole exercise possible.]

        • windbourne says:

          oh, BTW, the conservative issue;
          You see my ripping into ‘neo-cons’, but they are very different group than tea parties, original republicans and even us Libertarians.

          Now, I used to be a die-hard Libertarian, but after watching the market and how it responded to 2007, along with what has happened to AMerican business since the neo-cons got ahold of it in 1981, I am more of an original republican (lincoln, teddy, IKE, etc).
          Basically, a social moderate with a strong fiscal focus.
          I do not know knock the republican party per se, but groups within it, that are IMHO, destroying America (roughly the neo-cons and tea party).

  3. Aerospike says:

    Yes and no.

    (Imho) The JWST is a great project that suffers from very bad management. Once/if it is deployed (and nothing goes wrong) then it will deliver great scientific value.

    SLS also suffers from very bad management, but it won’t provide any real value even in case it gets finished at some point (highly unlikely).

    That’s why I don’t like it when both get mentioned in the same context.

    • windbourne says:

      is it bad management, or bad CONgress?

    • Paul451 says:

      Once/if it is deployed […] then it will deliver great scientific value.

      No, you still have to compare it to the lost opportunity. It’s not enough to say, “Without JWST, that amazing science wouldn’t be available to us” without also saying “With JWST, this amazing science is now lost to us.” The missions that could have flown. Not just those specifically cancelled because of JWST, but those that never got out of the gate because the minds & treasure it was consuming. What science could be had for $9 billion?

      Imagine 18 extra Discovery-class missions (Kepler/Dawn/NewHorizons). Or 3 Flagship missions (Hubble/Cassini/MSL) and 6 Discovery-class missions. What scientific value would they have?

      [Edit: Actually, that puts it in perspectice: Imagine having never gotten Hubble and Cassini and MSL, and Kepler and Dawn and New Horizons and MESSENGER and GRAIL and Lunar Prospector. Would JWST be “great scientific value” in comparison with that loss?]

      • Aerospike says:

        I think you didn’t get my point.

        JWST as a tool is a great thing, no matter from what angle you look at it. That the project/management has gone complete fubar is a completely different story. It is very
        unfortunate, that the project is way over budget and schedule, but you still can’t argue that the scientific value of the missions that we could have had instead might have been equal or even greater, because they would have been in different fields.

        Its like saying “imagine what other science we could have done if he hadn’t spent all this billions on CERNs LHC!” – Yeah, but that other science would not have answered the fundamental questions about particle physics that LHC was designed to answer.

        SLS on the other hand, poses no unique value (besides temporary jobs in certain districts) whatsoever! Even if it is (as it is claimed currently) on budget and on time.

        Yes, both suffer from fundamental NASA? management issues (partly related to inappropriate use of FAR), but it is still an apples and oranges comparison in my opinion.

        [Edit: sorry for the bad formatting. I edited my post and now disqus does some weird thing with line breaks… ]

        • Paul451 says:

          SLS on the other hand, poses no unique value

          Actually, a 70 tonne man-rated launcher is a perfectly useful tool. As I’ve said recently, if SLS cost $2-3 billion total and 3-5 years to develop, and cost $150-200m to launch, I’d be a huge fan.

          And I’ve seen people use exactly the same reasoning to defend SLS as you have to defend JWST. “Sure it costs money now, but once we have it, think of the capability if offers! Therefore you can’t cancel it now!”

          You can’t just blindly list the capability (or the science), you have to compare how much capability (or science) we are losing elsewhere to achieve that.

          The sky won’t go away if JWST was skipped for a generation, until we can do it cheaper. But no amount of waiting will bring that $9b back to the missions that were cancelled or prevented. That’s the difference in the opportunity cost between JWST and other, more value for money projects.

          Your argument effectively allows any amount of spending, no matter how much damage is caused to other projects, because at the end of the day, “Science!” And “Science!” is of infinite value.

          [I’ve also seen plenty of people defend ISS’s $3 billion per year, because “Science!” Again without any regard to (or understanding of) the opportunity cost.]

          because they would have been in different fields.

          Which is the point. JWST prevented billions of dollars of science in other fields. I don’t believe, by that measure, JWST can produce $9b worth of science. It’s just not good enough, nor will it exist for long enough.

        • Paul451 says:


          SLS on the other hand, poses no unique value […] whatsoever!


          And I’ve seen people use exactly the same reasoning to defend SLS as you have to defend JWST.

          And as I speak it, so shall it appear:


          “SLS and Orion give us so much more than technical capabilities. They will allow us to open deep space to all humankind, to expand human knowledge beyond our imagination, extend human experience out into the solar system, forge global partnerships for a better world and inspire humanity to dream of and achieve a better future. To not pursue SLS/Orion is to retreat from U. S. leadership in human space flight and watch China or Russia leave us behind as they and their partners benefit from unlocking the secrets of the solar system.”

          SLS is magical, and touching it makes us special. Isn’t that worth all the money?

          • Aerospike says:

            The quote about SLS is just the usual rubbish. Empty words to defend something that can’t be defended by sound arguments. I think there is no question, that we agree on this subject? 🙂

            And btw I’m not trying to defend JWST with similar arguments. In fact, there are some aspects of JWST, that really bug me, for example after all that experience with servicing/upgrading Hubble, it seems just stupid to not built serviceability into JWST, etc..
            However I really want that kind of capability that Webb provides to become available in the near future.

            With SLS, there are alternative approaches, that would yield the same (or almost the same) capabilities at a fraction of the cost (COTS like development of commercial HLLV) and in at least one case a lot sooner as well (commercial/depot approach).

            If you can point to something that can (almost) replace JWST at greatly reduced costs (and possibly be ready sooner), then I’m happy to kick JWST into the dustbin.

            But saying that with the money spent on JWST we could do so much (completely different) other stuff (with no guarantee that those other projects will be on budget btw) still is not the same as SLS which could be easily _replaced_ by other approaches.

      • Bennett In Vermont says:

        Fantastic job putting it into perspective!

  4. Fingersoup says:

    This site need a forum attached to it. ^^

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