Already budgeted cuts to NASA’s planetary mission budgets. R&A is Research and Analysis, which supports the scientific research community.

THURSDAY, JANUARY 31, 2013

Sequestration and Planetary Exploration

I’d hoped that I’d never need to write this post. The latest news in the United States is that a poison pill known as the Sequester is looking increasingly likely. If it happens, it will be a body blow to NASA’s planetary science program.

First, a bit of background. The two political parties in the US have been fighting over how to reduce the federal government’s budget deficits, but have been unable to reach a compromise. To enforce discipline, they passed a law that would require an 8.2% cut to all discretionary federal spending including the NASA budget. The cuts were considered so arbitrary and onerous that it was thought that the two parties would work to find a compromise. Numerous news articles are reporting that Congressional leaders are coming to accept that the sequester will happen; arbitrary and onerous apparently seems more acceptable than compromise.

In this post, I’ll look at what the sequester, due to take effect March 1, might mean to NASA’s future planetary exploration. I want to emphasize that NASA’s managers have properly been all but silent on how they plan to implement the cuts if they come (with one exception noted below). This post will illustrate the magnitude of these potential cuts.

I don’t know the details of the sequester law. For example, does every program within every agency have to be cut by the same amount? It appears not, because NASA’s managers have publicly stated that the James Webb Space Telescope’s budget will be spare the impact of the sequester. (Rightly so. Delaying launch would mean substantial increases in the costs to complete the telescope.) If NASA protects some programs, then the cuts that would have been applied to them will have to be borne by increased cuts to other programs.

Read more: Future Planetary Exploration: Sequestration and Planetary Exploration.

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