Solar missions suffer in face of Moon, Mars, and Beyond

NASA should restrain its investment in the Moon, Mars, and Beyond agenda in order to save Earth-Sun Science Missions. The Earth-Sun Science Missions are imperative to understanding our place in the Solar System, the Earth-Space Environment, and the most important star, the Sun. Currently, the NASA FY05 budget retracted $117M in funding the Mission Operations and Data Analysis (MO&DA) of Earth-Sun Science Missions, also called the Sun-Solar System Connection (S3C). Moreover, the President’s FY06 budget plans an additional $78M cut from MO&DA in the next five years. According to the FY06 budget, it is clear that the money retracted from S3C is deemed imperative to the new Moon, Mars & Beyond mission agenda. Such a drastic budget cut in S3C is unnecessary and will cost the nation more scientific achievement than it will pay off under the new national agenda.

MO&DA of Earth-Sun Science Missions supports the research of a dozen satellites including Trace, Fast, Wind, Voyager, Ulysses, Geotail, Cluster, Timed, SOHO, and several other S3C missions. The MO&DA of the SC3 missions costs a mere $20M per year. This accounts for only 0.12% of the total NASA budget, a mere $16.5B. In addition, S3C missions support hundreds of graduate students across the country, the future minds of space research, while addressing new science every day. Cutting MO&DA will inevitably cripple the Sun-Solar System missions, forcing premature termination, that support the scientific accomplishments of our nation, not to mention place hundreds of scientists and graduate students between a rock and a hard place.

The MO&DA of Earth-Sun Science Missions, in addition to costing only $20M per year and supporting hundreds of researchers across the nation, establishes the foundation of a research imperative. The fundamental goal of SC3 is to discover, to explore, and ultimately to understand the activity of a star—the Sun—and the often complex effects of that activity on the interplanetary environment, the planets and other solar system bodies, and the interstellar medium. To name a few national science goals, SC3 includes the research that will lead to understanding the structure and dynamics of the Sun’s interior, understanding Heliospheric structure, the distribution of magnetic fields and matter throughout the solar system, understanding the space environments of Earth and other solar system bodies, and developing a near real-time predictive capability for understanding and quantifying the impact of dynamical processes of the Sun on human activities on Earth. The Earth-Sun Science Missions are imperative to the fundamental understanding of the Sun-Solar System Connection, offering the only viable source of MO&DA required to accomplish the necessary knowledge.

NASA has prioritized the Moon, Mars & Beyond agenda. In order to accomplish such an adventurous mission program as Moon, Mars & Beyond within a reasonable time frame, NASA will need to use nearly its entire current overall budget. To achieve such a high monetary demand, NASA is looking to make any cuts that will help squeeze additional funds into Moon, Mars & Beyond. It appears NASA executives are assuming that cutting an approximate $20M per year from the budget, only 0.12% of the $16.5B budget, will contribute greatly to the premise of Moon, Mars & Beyond. In addition, NASA is assuming that Moon, Mars & Beyond, likely unachievable until well into the future under the current NASA budget, is more important to both the achievement of science and our nation than the mere $20M per year required to tap the imperative goals of space science and basic research to the SC3 missions.

NASA should reconsider the details of the current budget. The MO&DA of Earth-Sun Science Missions employs a good portion of the nation’s researchers and graduate students, the future of the nation’s science programs. Although Moon, Mars & Beyond represents a much needed direction for NASA, the new direction should not include eliminating an important aspect of the national science community. There is no need for NASA to place all of its eggs in one basket. NASA should hold back some funding from Moon, Mars, & Beyond, continue to support its other programs, and spend the necessary time to accomplish the new national space initiative instead of forcing the agenda onto the scientific community without the means to achieve the goal. NASA must recognize Earth-Sun Science Missions as culturally and scientifically indispensable even in the face of a new national monster…Moon, Mars & Beyond.

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