In a scathing editorial about the state of the U.S. space program, specifically its planetary science undertakings, CEO and director of the Planetary Science Institute Mark V. Sykes wrote that President Obama seems “committed to undermining the nation's own solar system exploration program.”
Sykes went on to call the whole situation “frustrating” in that other nations on the ascent in space exploration while the U.S., once the world's undisputed power in space, seems to be turning its back on the final frontier.
So, how bad are things going for America in space?
For the 2013 fiscal year, NASA saw its planetary science budget cut by a whopping 20%. Overall budget change from 2012 to 2013: a net loss of -0.3%. So, why the big cut to planetary science? Answer: an increased focus on the manned spaceflight division, which had seen its budget cut in previous years thanks to the retirement of the space shuttle. As for planetary science, the Mars program saw the brunt of the cuts, with the space agency scaling back costs (and thus its ambitions) on future plans for robotic missions to Mars.
The main objection voiced by Sykes: a governmental favoring of large-scale, and sometimes poorly thought-out missions (such as the plan to lasso an asteroid) and the abandonment of the more run of the mill, competitive science that, while it doesn't always make the news, produces most of the new knowledge in the field.
In his piece, Sykes said that “over the course of the current decade, most operating NASA planetary missions will come to an end. Under current administration plans, the U.S. footprint in the solar system will radically shrink, and the nation's capability to resurge when, and if, resources become available will be crippled, perhaps permanently. This will be the legacy of the Obama administration — the loss of a crown jewel of American science and technology. “
Sykes isn't alone in his concerns. Last year, the National Research Council published a study that basically said that NASA was lost in space. This in itself comes on the heels of many former NASA astronauts from the agency's glory years (the 1960s) voicing concerns over the direction America is going in space.
Needless to say, there is a lot of concern for America's future in space.
For more info:
The full editorial
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