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NASA Science Mission Directorate: Impacts of the Fiscal Year 2007 Budget Proposal

Date: 
Thursday, March 2, 2006 - 12:00am
Location: 
Washington, D.C.

Opening Statement By Hon. Bart Gordon

Good morning. I want to welcome the witnesses to today’s hearing.

Today’s hearing is focused on two important components of NASA’s overall science enterprise - its space and Earth science programs. Those programs have generated many of the discoveries, imagery, and inspiration that have engaged the American public in the excitement and wonder of space exploration.

Moreover, NASA’s science programs have helped to nurture and develop successive
generations of scientists and engineers through university-based research, participation in space science missions, and data analysis.

In addition, NASA’s science programs have long been marked by a high degree of productive international cooperation and collaboration. In other words, NASA’s science programs have amply demonstrated the wisdom of the nation’s investment in them.

In that regard, when the President announced his exploration initiative two years ago, we were promised a robust science program at NASA with a healthy annual funding rate and an impressive set of future missions. As we now know, that’s not what happened.

In the two years since the FY 2005 budget request was submitted, the Administration has cut more than $4 billion from the funding plans for NASA’s space and Earth science programs.

In addition, while not the focus of today’s hearing, I would also point out that NASA’s life science and microgravity science research programs have been decimated over the last two years and funding for ISS research has been cut back to the point where it is unclear exactly what use
NASA intends to make of the ISS. 

Returning to NASA’s space and Earth science programs; let me take a moment to list some of the impacts of the proposed reductions. Namely, the FY 2007 budget request would cut funding for research and analysis—the funding that helps support university-based space and Earth science research - by $350 to $400 million over the next five years, including a 50 percent reduction in fundamental research in astrobiology.

The Explorer program would be cut, and researchers working on a competitively selected Small Explorer mission would have their mission cancelled for budgetary reasons without even a prior review. Funding for robotic exploration of the solar system would be cut significantly relative to what had been projected just two years ago.

NASA’s planet-finding program - which was featured prominently in the President’s exploration initiative - is in disarray as a result of this budget request. The SOFIA mission being developed jointly with Germany, while officially “under review”, is given no funding in the FY 2007 budget request. The Beyond Einstein initiative would be delayed indefinitely.

The GPM mission, one of the highest scientific priorities of the Earth Science research community, would be delayed two and a half years. I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

And as some of our witnesses will point out in their testimony, these proposed actions run directly counter to the spirit and intent of the President’s own American Competitiveness Initiative.

In fairness, the NASA Administrator has said that he is not happy about the need to make cuts to the science programs, but he characterizes the cuts as just a temporary situation that will be corrected when the Shuttle is retired.

I’d like to believe that he is right. However, I’m afraid I can’t share his confidence based on the facts at hand.

We’ve already seen that for the past two years this Administration has been unwilling to fund NASA at the levels that it said NASA would need. And over those same two years, NASA has shifted billions of dollars out of its space and Earth science programs.

I hope that the Associate Administrator can give me credible assurances that that won’t happen again next year or the year after.

At the same time as the Shuttle program is ending in 2010, NASA’s plans call for a major increase in the funding requirements for its exploration initiative to pay for the heavy lift launch vehicle, the lunar lander, and other exploration-related hardware programs.

It looks like any Shuttle dividend will be going to fund human exploration, not to cover science funding shortfalls. I hope I’m wrong, and I hope that Dr. Cleave will be able to shed some light on the plans for science funding beyond this budget request.

And despite the President’s call for an integrated program of human and robotic exploration of the solar system, I am concerned that science has become an afterthought in the agency’s exploration initiative - largely decoupled from the exploration initiative and vulnerable to being cut back as necessary to pay for the human exploration hardware.

That worries me, and I hope that Dr. Cleave will clarify the role that her office is playing in determining the scientific priorities that NASA will pursue in its exploration initiative. Maximizing the nation’s scientific return should be a prime determinant of NASA’s approach to human exploration, not an after-the-fact justification.

Well, we have a great deal to discuss today, and a distinguished set of witnesses to help us sort through some tough issues. I again want to welcome them, and I yield back the balance of my time.

Download the opening statement text.


Opening Statement By Hon. Mark Udall

Good morning. I’d like to join my colleagues in welcoming the witnesses to today’s hearing, and I’m pleased to see that Dr. Fran Bagenal from the University of Colorado is part of the distinguished panel that will be testifying today. Welcome to all of you.

I will be brief in my remarks, because I believe that much of the prepared testimony echoes the concerns that I have about the direction NASA is headed.

Some have referred to NASA’s science programs as NASA’s “crown jewels.” That’s an apt characterization.

NASA’s science activities - whether they involve missions to Pluto, scientific satellites observing the Earth, space-based observatories peering out to the farthest reaches of the universe, or researchers at university labs working on space, Earth, and life sciences research - all have the potential to advance our knowledge, inspire our youth, and improve the quality of life here on Earth.

That is not to say that human exploration is not also important - I strongly support an integrated program of human and robotic exploration. It makes good sense, and it will deliver many benefits to the nation over the long run.

However, we are not off to a good start when billions of dollars are cut from NASA’s science programs within the first two years of the President’s exploration initiative.

Even more troubling, some of those cuts are damaging the university-based research that is critical to training the next generation of scientists and engineers.

At our recent hearing with Administrator Griffin, he stated that he had asked Dr. Cleave to review the proposed Research and Analysis cuts. I hope that Dr. Cleave will be able to report on the status of that review today. I’d like to make my position clear, however.

I believe that those R&A cuts are ill-advised, and I intend to work with my colleagues to correct the situation as Congress considers the NASA funding request.

To use another analogy, in many respects NASA’s science programs are the agency’s intellectual “seed corn.”

The FY 2007 budget request puts that “seed corn” at risk, and I think that’s a mistake.

Well, we have a thoughtful set of experts whose testimony will be very helpful to us as we grapple with the implications of NASA’s budget plan.

I want to thank them for their participation, and I look forward to hearing their testimony. I yield back the balance of my time.


Download the opening statement text.

Witnesses

Panel

1 - Dr. Mary Cleave
Associate Administrator, Science Mission Directorate National Aeronautics and Space Administration National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Download the Witness Testimony

2 - Dr. Joseph Taylor
Co-Chairman, NAS Decadal Survey for Astrophysics, Astronomy and Astrophysics in Princeton University Princeton University
Download the Witness Testimony

3 - Dr. Fran Bagenal
Member, National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Decadal Survey for Heliophysics; Prof University of Colorado University of Colorado
Download the Witness Testimony

4 - Dr. Wes Huntress
Member, NAS Decadal Survey for Solar System Exploration; Director, Geophysical L Carnegie Institution of Washington Carnegie Institution of Washington
Download the Witness Testimony

5 - Dr. Berrien Moore
Co-Chairman, NAS Decadal Survey for Earth Sciences; Director, Institute for the University of New Hampshire University of New Hampshire
Download the Witness Testimony

Witness Statements

  • Dr. Mary Cleave, Associate Administrator, Science Mission Directorate, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Washington, DC)
  • Dr. Joseph Taylor, Jr., Co-Chairman, NAS Decadal Survey for Astrophysics, Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium; Distinguished Professor of Physics, Princeton University (Princeton, NJ)
  • Dr. Fran Bagenal, Member, National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Decadal Survey for Heliophysics; Professor, Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences, University of Colorado (Boulder, CO)
  • Dr. Wes Huntress, Member, NAS Decadal Survey for Solar System Exploration; Director, Geophysical Laboratory, Carnegie Institution of Washington (Washington, DC)
  • Dr. Berrien Moore, Co-Chairman, NAS Decadal Survey for Earth Sciences; Director, Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space, University of New Hampshire (Durham, NH)
Dr. Mary Cleave, Associate Administrator (Science), NASA
Dr. Cleave
Dr. Joseph Taylor (Princeton University) and Dr. Fran Bagenal (University of Colorado)
Dr. Taylor, Dr. Bagenal
Dr. Wes Huntress (Carnegie Institution of Washington
Dr. Huntress
Dr. Berrien Moore (University of New Hampshire)
Dr. Moore
109th Congress