"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Saturday, March 24, 2012

My Testimony to Congress Regarding NASA

Though I have written to elected officials many times, until this week I had never written to an entire committee of them. Recently, Bill Nye (the Science Guy) asked members of
The Planetary Society to send testimony to the House of Representatives regarding NASA's budget. Below are some excerpts from my statement. They will be included in the written record of the appropriate subcommittee. If you would like to read the whole thing (three pages), you can view my Statement for the Record as a PDF document.

Excerpt One: NASA as Law

 

TESTIMONY OF C. JACOB CHRISTENSEN
MEMBER OF THE PLANETARY SOCIETY

TESTIMONY TO THE U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
SUBCOMMITTEE ON COMMERCE, JUSTICE, SCIENCE,
AND RELATED AGENCIES

HEARING ON NASA’S FISCAL YEAR 2013 BUDGET
March 22, 2012

At the request of Bill Nye, CEO of The Planetary Society, I am providing testimony regarding NASA’s 2013 budget. My perspective is informed both from being a member of The Planetary Society and also from working for a small Michigan-based distributor of scientific supplies and equipment. NASA has from time to time been our customer. I am greatly concerned over a possible 20% cut to NASA’s Planetary Science program. ...

Speaking as a citizen who has read the amended National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, I am aware that NASA programs are not a matter of luxury. They are a matter of law. For example, mandates for NASA to study the atmosphere and monitor near-Earth asteroids are hardwired into the legislative code that governs the agency. NASA’s Planetary Science program enables it to engage in “long-range studies…for peaceful and scientific purposes.” Furthermore, NASA is a vital conduit through which you, as members of Congress, fulfill your Constitutional obligation “To promote the Progress of Science…”


Excerpt Two: Ebb and Flow

 

The Planetary Science program is like an advanced guard. Its missions tell us where to point our next heavy-lift rocket, and what conditions future astronauts will find when they arrive. Current missions are providing some of this essential knowledge. One duo of spacecraft merits special attention: Ebb and Flow. Ebb and Flow were cleverly named by elementary school students. These children not only have a keen sense of what passes for a cool moniker these days, they also grasp the purpose of the mission. Ebb and Flow orbit in tandem to study the moon’s gravitational field in unprecedented detail. To the next set of astronauts that land on the moon—their mission likely to be a search for natural resources—my generation can rightly say, “You’re welcome.”

However, if NASA’s Planetary Science budget is slashed by 20%, those fourth-graders who named Ebb and Flow may arrive in college with few if any missions to participate in. It takes years to shepherd even modest planetary missions from the brainstorming phase to the launch pad. The time to put the next generation’s missions in the pipeline is now.


Excerpt Three: Facing Extinction Threats

 

We are remarkably close to being a species that can mitigate the above clear and present dangers. To do so will require a long-term, multi-disciplinary effort that includes planetary science. The good news is we do not need a new agency. We just need to properly fund the one which has already proven it is up to the task. We will also need to partner with other space agencies now operating around the globe. However, some of them are understandably wondering if the U.S. has what it takes to lead the way. I mentioned the European Space Agency earlier as a collaborator on the Cassini mission. We recently broke our commitment to the ESA for two Mars robotic missions. If the current budget does not afford us the ability to carpool, how do we seriously expect to get there on our own?

I ask you, at a minimum, to fund NASA’s Planetary Science program at the level quoted in my first paragraph. In comparison to other expenditures made by this government, the allocation is modest. As astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has pointed out in numerous public statements, NASA takes less than a penny of each tax dollar citizens pay. Count me as a citizen who believes that some taxes are worth paying. Among the returns we and future generations can hope to receive is the survival of life in this solar system.

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