NYT article about science cuts at NASA

By Phil Plait | March 1, 2006 9:18 pm

I know I have been blogging about this topic a lot, but that’s because it’s important. Important objectively, but also important to me. I see the potential for the future of science at NASA draining away, and it needs to stay on people’s minds.

Here is an article in the New York Times — on the eve of a Congressional hearing about science cuts at NASA — talking about the very real pain and trouble this is already causing. On the second page is a comment about NuSTAR, a mission I was working on:

… Fiona Harrison, a physicist at the California Institute of Technology, said she first learned from a news conference that her own Explorer project, an X-ray satellite observatory called NuStar, was being cancelled after several years of development. Dr. Harrison said that she had been invited to reapply in 2008, but that in the meantime she had to tell her graduate student to find another thesis project.

Dr. Harrison said she was thinking of leaving the country or perhaps even the field of astrophysics.

2008 is basically forever in the life of a postdoc, a grad student, even a full-time researcher. The administration at NASA has said that these missions are only delayed, not canceled, and will be started up again. But who will still be there to pick up the pieces?

The Congressional webcast starts at 10:00 a.m. Eastern time.


Comments (12)

  1. The administration at NASA has said that these missions are only delayed, not canceled, and will be started up again. But who will still be there to pick up the pieces?

    No kidding. I am only guessing, but re-hashing work and ideas that have lain dormant for two years, in order to spend 4 – 6 month’s on a proposal…

    Just off the top of my head (I am not a scientist, just a layman) I have noticed a great increase in Europe and Asia launches. The cryosattelite (I thimnk?, LOL) shouldv’e been doomed after the failed launch, yet the importance of it was recognized enough that funding is happening to reproduce enterprise already.

    It is becoming a very stark contrast between the US and the rest of the world when it comes to progressive thinking, and planning.

  2. Argh. That’s all I got right now. Argh. Leaving the US seems like a better career move everyday (for scientists anyway).

  3. Phil, bloggers;
    I feel your pain. While the things I have worked on seemed to me to be much more central to what society needs than my hobby (astronomy which I teach), they get stalled for years as well. As long as our society needs to keep spending so much of its resources fighting the bad guys, that is the way it will be. Wake up and smell coffee! I would like to see the budgets for my research projects grow (or at least, not have all these gaps), but the fact is, and immense amount of money is going down a rat hole in the middle east. It has always been that way, and it is most likely always going to be that way.

  4. Gp

    Not that the rest of the world doesnt offer space science opportunities, but Dr Harrison would almost will never find the funding in the size that NASA or America offers.

  5. I just saw a blurb in the Fox Morning News (Bay Area) that NASA will loose 3 billion dollars over the next few years. NASA says that it needs the money for the ISS and Space Shuttle flights. The report also said that NASA will abandon its search for life and “other smaller research programs.”

    This is absolutely horrible news. I guess wars make more money. I have to wonder if this is some kind of retaliation agains the Deutch fiasco by the right wing…

    What in thw world is going on here??

  6. Cindy

    Here’s a cynical approach: move some of the military budget for fighter jets, etc that are not needed because they were designed to fight the cold war and move it to NASA for the Moon & Mars projects. This will help the aerospace industries (Lockheed Martin, Boeing, etc) which is the reason why some of those military projects aren’t cancelled.

    If I was head of NASA, I would have just one more shuttle mission to fix HST and then bag the shuttle and the ISS. Then again, I’m biased because I used to work on HST. The ISS has always been a boondoggle for the aerospace industries.

    Hmm, if there was only some way we could convince Bush that funding the science missions at NASA would help in the fight against terrorism. ūüėČ

  7. scubajim

    Fix the space shuttle. It is poorly designed from the begining. We need a space shuttle that only carries people and a seperate vehical that only carries cargo. Why? When you have people abord a rocket you have to have a lot of redundant systems for the people’s safety. (good thing) Mixing large payloads with that is very ineffecient. If you only carry a payload (cargo, not people) then you don’t need redundant life support and a whole slew of other things.

    Yes, we need saner funding of science projects for the life of the project. It makes no sense to stop it in the middle.

  8. beskeptigal

    Ricky Leon Murphy Says: “I guess wars make more money.”


  9. Nigel Depledge

    Scubajim, I don’t know if you were aware, but NASA’a original vision of the space shuttle (conceived while people were flying to the moon) was for a small, light vehicle. Then the miltary demanded the vehicle have a heavy-lift capacity for spy satellites etc., so it was redesigned as the hideous compromise we have today. As I understand it, NASA’s remit and funding at the time were tied up with cold-war politics.

    Cindy, I wholly agree. The ISS has proven itself to be nothing but a money-sink. Well, in comparison with the promises that were made when it was on the drawing boards.

  10. PK

    The ISS is a “Marshall plan” for the Russians. Useful, in my opinion, but it is too bad the money comes from the science budget, and not from somewhere else…

  11. Kaptain K

    I agree with scubajim.
    You don’t haul freight in a taxi (or even a bus) and you don’t haul people in a truck (unless you’re smuggling illegals across the border).
    As I see it:
    1) The CEV looks like a good “taxi”, but eventually we will need a “space bus”.
    2) For hauling freight to space, you really can’t beat big dumb rockets.
    3) We need to scrap the ISS white elephant and design and build a real space station. Start with a living quarters module for the construction crew to live in while constructing the “real” station. Construction crews don’t live in a high rise while they build it!


  12. Insert another vote for scrapping the ISS. I hate to have to say so, but it’s definitely time to move on. While it may have been a good idea on paper, in practice it’s been abysmal.

    The billions of dollars earmarked for ISS between now and 2011 as well as additional billions in Shuttle & flight support could be much better spent elsewhere on projects capable of yielding far more scientific return. I realize valuable microgravity and biomedical data have been collected — but you can only accomplish so much from Earth orbit, less still via platforms chronically plagued by problems. Why waste the money on a crapshoot? I just don’t understand the rationale.


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