The U.S. space agency is sacrificing unmanned science missions in order to fund President Bush’s plan to return astronauts to the moon and to complete the International Space Station. Critics of NASA have been making that charge for the past year, and a May 4 National Academy of Sciences report joins the chorus.
NASA’s projected budget over the next 5 years cuts basic-science funding by 15 percent. That shortfall would halt work on several proposed planet-exploration missions, including one to look for life within Jupiter’s moon Europa. It would also cancel a search for Earthlike worlds beyond the solar system and delay a mission to bring back samples of Mars. Funding for the search for life beyond Earth would be halved.
According to the Congress-commissioned report, the agency doesn’t have enough money to fund basic-science programs while also planning human missions to the moon and maintaining the troubled space shuttle program, which is committed to finishing the space station by 2010.
“There is a mismatch between what NASA has been assigned to do and the resources with which it has been provided,” says space scientist Lennard A. Fisk of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, who chaired the academy study.
In recent congressional testimony, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said that while some cuts have been necessary, they haven’t changed the agency’s balance between basic research and human exploration of space.