Boehlert’s farewell speech

Boehlert’s farewell speech

Boehlert’s farewell speech

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Dec. 13 2006 10:19 PM

Boehlert’s farewell speech

Note: As of right now (9:00 p.m. Wednesday night) I am less than 100 votes behind Pharyngula! Let's get 'im! And now, on to the regularly scheduled blog:

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  


Senator Congressman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) was the chairman of the House Science Committee before retiring from Congress this year. Before leaving, he wrote a letter to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) saying NASA funding needs to be increased.

It's very cool. You should read the whole thing (it's only one page) but here's the NASA part:

Last, but not least, NASA needs additional funding if it is to move ahead with both the Vision for Space Exploration and the space science, earth science and aeronautics research required by the NASA Authorization Act of 2005. There is no reason to launch the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle before 2014, and there is every reason to retire the Space Shuttle in 2010, as planned.

He is definitely right about the funding. I do think there's a good reason to launch Orion before 2014, though: we'll have a 4 year gap with no manned access to space. I think that what he may actually mean is that it would be very bad to rush the process. I certainly agree with that!


He continues:

Most important, NASA’s science programs, which are its most successful and beneficial programs, must continue to thrive. The earth science program in particular is in danger of atrophying. At the very, very least, NASA’s Science Mission Directorate must receive at least as much as was projected in the runout in the fiscal 2007 budget. Moreover, the "bread and butter" funding for NASA science, known as Research and Analysis, must be the top priority for funding.

Hurray! He is precisely right in that. However, NASA Administration has been threatening R&A for some time, which is precisely the wrong thing to do (comments made by scientists who took a survey done by the Planetary Science Institute make that clear).

NASA has put a lot of incredibly important work on the chopping block. This is an extraordinarily short-sighted idea. Representative Boehlert nailed it: this is a top priority, and always should be. Always.

NASA Administration needs to understand the balance needed to do exploration and science -- and tell me, if you can, the difference between the two. To me, they are two sides of the same coin, and you cannot have one without the other. Yet NASA wants to devastate the latter for the former, which is like the gift of the Magi but with less noble motives. The reason given, of course, is money, but NASA's funding is very small compared to the budget of any other agency in the government. As Mike Griffin, NASA's Administrator, himself has pointed out, NASA costs pennies per person per day. And look what it delivers! Search my blog for the word Cassini, or Hubble, or Spitzer and see for yourself.

Pennies per day per person. What we need for NASA is not to decide which vital organ to cut, but how to find those few extra pennies so that we can scientifically explore the Universe, and do it right.

Tip o' the space helmet to Space Politics for the story on Representative Boehlert.