Some of the nation’s scientific leaders plan to rally against cuts that President Obama wants for NASA’s budget, which they say will hinder the advance of the U.S. space program and hurt the nation’s scientific talent pool.
The SETI Institute, a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to scientific research, education and public outreach, is organizing the protest, scheduled to begin Saturday evening at a cafe in Mountain View, Calif.
Best known as the heart of Silicon Valley, Mountain View also is home to many U.S. scientific and space endeavors, including those at the NASA Ames Research Center.
“The nation risks the loss of a generation of upcoming, talented engineers and researchers whose careers are centered on the exploration of our solar system in the quest for life beyond Earth,” says astronomer Jill Tarter, who has been covered recently in the Washington Post, MSNBC, and elsewhere.
Specifically, the scientists complain about a 20-percent cut Obama has proposed from NASA’s Planetary Science Division for the federal fiscal year beginning October 1. Under the president’s proposal, funding would drop to $1.2 billion from a current $1.5 billion.
“These cuts will force NASA to cancel its plans for its most ambitious exploration missions, cancel collaborations with the European Space Agency (ESA) on the 2016 Mars Trace Gas Orbiter and the 2018 ExoMars rover, slash the Mars Exploration Program, cancel the Lunar Quest Program, delay the very successful Discovery and New Frontiers competitive programs, and force cuts in mission operations and data analysis for several current missions, reducing the science return on an investment already made by the taxpayers,” says Nathalie Cabrol, leader of the Planetary Lakes Lander Team.
The impact of Obama’s cuts would be felt right here on Earth, argues Tarter, Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI Research.
“Planetary scientists at NASA centers, universities and research organizations, like the SETI Institute, face a future that drops or greatly delays planned missions to Mars and the outer planets,” she says. “The nation risks the loss of a generation of upcoming, talented engineers and researchers whose careers are centered on the exploration of our solar system in the quest for life beyond Earth. Scientists and the public are uniting in a campaign to ‘Save Our Science’ that kicks off June 9.”
SETI Institute scientists invite the public to the Red Rock Café in Mountain View, on Saturday, at 7 pm, to support “Save Our Science,” learn about planetary sciences, and sign letters to Congress urging them to restore funding to planetary science. This event is free and all ages are welcome. This event is part of a coordinated nationwide effort. On the same day, space scientists and research institutions across the country are holding car washes and bake sales to raise awareness about budget cuts to planetary science, organizers say.
Lastly, from June 22-24, a larger gathering will be held to talk about science education, known as SETIcon. Several panels at SETIcon II will focus on planetary sciences, the future of space exploration, and commercial space flight.