COMMENTARY: Astrobiology Budget in Peril
A major decrease in NASA funding for Astrobiology has been proposed. The President's budget for fiscal year '07 includes plans to cut NASA's astrobiology budget to 50% of its FY '05 level. The operating plan for the current fiscal year (FY '06) will severely curtail ongoing astrobiology funding as an interim step towards meeting the FY '07 announced level.
While it is true that the entire NASA science budget is under pressure, this 50% cut to astrobiology is much larger than the 15% across-the-board cuts proposed for FY '07 in the other NASA research programs. Although many of us consider astrobiology to be the primary science of the President's Vision for Space Exploration, this is not reflected in the budget proposal.
Historically, Congressional support has been strong for NASA's impressive suite of discovery-based science. It is very important to make them aware of this disabling decrease in funding for astrobiology and other NASA science. Action it needed immediately to prevent the slowing down, or even cessation of astrobiology research that is now progressing very well. The support of Congress is the best and possibly the only way to retain the essential NASA funding and to maintain a vigorous and growing astrobiology program. We understand that there is no recourse at any level within NASA.
We ask that you write immediately to your Representatives and Senators to express your support for astrobiology and concern over the proposed budget cuts. We are not suggesting any specific wording, since you know best what astrobiology means to you, whether as a recipient of NASA funds, as an educator, as someone who hopes for a career in astrobiology, or just someone interested in astrobiology science.
WHAT YOU CAN SAY
Compelling arguments can be developed both in terms of the science of astrobiology and the role of astrobiology in education and public appeal. Other useful arguments may be those that are phrased in terms of the American Competitiveness Initiative currently being supported by the Administration. In the early phases of this budget cycle, attention is being directed to the National Research Council report "Rising Above the Gathering Storm". The innovations that have come out of cross-disciplinary astrobiology research, innovations that would never have been birthed within traditional academic compartments, should attract the attention of the Congressional members and their staff. You can visit the SETI Institute's website for excerpts from the key reports that you might want to use to bolster the claim that astrobiology is essential for the Vision for Space Exploration.
HOW TO CONTACT CONGRESS
Of the multiple ways to express opinions to members of Congress, the most effective is probably by fax or, if you know them, by a telephone call to staff. (Ordinary postal delivery mail to Congress is delayed because of security concerns, and e-mails are usually not individually read). Information on how to contact members of Congress, plus simple guidelines for conveying your message effectively have been prepared by the American Astronomical Society and is available at this website. (Simply enter your zip code in the section below and left of the map.) If at all possible, we also encourage you to fax a copy of your note to the key congressional committee members shown on the SETI Institute website. Your Representatives and Senators are likely to respond positively to your letters or faxes. However, they will do so only if you act to make the case for them, and do it now.
Baruch S. Blumberg is a SETI Institute Trustee, Nobel Laureate, and the former Director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. Thomas Pierson is the Chief Executive Officer for the SETI Institute
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