NASA at a Turning Point: Vibrant Future or Close Shop

Special Capitol Hill Forum, sponsored by The Mars Society and The Planetary Society

November 3, 2011  Rayburn House Office Building, Room 338, 11 AM-1 PM.  Lunch provided.

Speakers:

Dr. Robert Zubrin, President of the Mars Society

Professor Jim Bell, President of the Planetary Society

Professor Scott Hubbard, former Director NASA Ames Research Center

Dr. Heidi Hammel, Executive VP, Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy

America’s space program is currently facing a severe crisis.

The planetary exploration program is in grave danger. In its FY 2012 budget, the OMB has effectively terminated support for future missions.  The Mars Science Lab Curiosity — currently being readied on the pad — will be launched, as will the nearly completed small Mars orbiter MAVEN scheduled for 2013, but that is it.  No further missions to anywhere are in the budget.  If things are allowed to stand, after 2013 America’s amazing career of planetary exploration, which ran from the Mariner probes in the 1960s through the great Pioneer, Viking, Voyager, Pathfinder, Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Odyssey, Spirit, Opportunity, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Galileo, and Cassini missions, will simply end.

The space astronomy program is also headed for destruction.  The now orbiting Kepler telescope will be turned off in mid-mission, stopping it before it can complete its goal of finding other Earths.  Even worse, the magnificent Webb telescope, the agency’s flagship, which promises fundamental breakthroughs in our understanding of the laws of the universe, is in danger of not getting sufficient funds to allow a completion in a timely manner.  This guarantees further costly delays, with the ensuing budgetary overruns leading inevitably to eventual cancellation.

The human spaceflight program has lost the ability to reach orbit, and is adrift in the face of an ongoing fiscal tsunami.  Lacking a meaningful goal for the next decade or more, it could easily end up on the block as well.
The ostensible reason for the decision to kill planetary exploration and space astronomy is budgetary discipline.  Yet while overall federal spending has grown 40 percent since 2008, NASA’s funding has remained virtually the same.  It is not NASA that is bankrupting America, and our nation’s space program should not be made a casualty of overspending elsewhere.  Acceptance of the destruction of our space exploration effort simply amounts to acceptance of American decline.  That is something we truly cannot afford.

America need not accept defeat in space.  Come to the forum and join the discussion on how we can insure the continuation of our nation’s great pioneer tradition in space.

www.planetary.org                                                                                 www.marssociety.org

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