NSF Town Hall at the 221st AAS Meeting Casey Dreier

The Astronomy Budget Squeeze

It’s not just NASA. All of space science feels the pinch of smaller budgets.

Posted By Casey Dreier

2013/01/09 07:11 CST

NASA’s planetary science division is not the only space-related agency to suffer budget pressures. Monday’s National Science Foundation Town Hall at the American Astronomical Society meeting painted a bleak picture of funding for Astronomy research in the United States. Current funding realities are forcing them to choose between funding the scientific community or maintaining telescopes that provide them data.

Like any good discussion about budgets, we need to spend a little time defining divisions and sub-divisions within the NSF and how they support astronomy, as well as how the NSF is allowed to use the money Congress provides it.

The NSF is responsible for the majority of non-medical scientific research funding in the United States. When I say research funding, I mean money that supports individual scientists and engineers in their research efforts in a wide variety of fields. The NSF also provides funds to develop and maintain certain facilities that provide data for these scientists to do research on.

Like NASA, the NSF is split into subdivisions that each have their own line item within the budget. The relevant one for us today is the AST (Division of Astronomical Sciences, which I realize is not an acronym, but it’s the proper shorthand). The AST’s budget request for 2013 is $244 million dollars, or about 3.3% of the total NSF budget. A full $10 million of this is marked for a specific educational research program, so the functional amount the AST has to work with is around $234 million.

As reported on last year, this is significantly less money to work with than the astronomy community expected back when they put together their own Decadal Survey, which represented a community consensus of the priorities in the field back in 2010.

Read more: The Astronomy Budget Squeeze | The Planetary Society.

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