On Wednesday, Rep. Adam Schiff and colleagues on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies questioned NASA Administrator Charles Bolden about proposed cuts to the planetary sciences program. During the hearing, Rep. Schiff and other members took strong issue with Bolden over the Obama Administration’s proposal which would eliminate funding for a pair of missions to Mars. The budget proposal would eliminate $309 million for planetary science, much of which is done at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). After the hearing, Schiff issued the following statement:
“The cuts proposed by the Administration would decimate the Mars Program and planetary science. Mars has been one of the most successful and popular programs in NASA’s history, and cancelling the planned missions in 2016 and 2018 is tragic and ill-considered. The proposed cuts would also be devastating to JPL and its unique capabilities in deep space operations. People from around the world come to JPL to do things that no other space agency or country are able to do, including landing rovers on Mars. This is not a talent pool that we can afford to lose as a country.
“Many of the colleagues on the Appropriations Committee shared the same view that the Administration’s proposal puts our priorities in the wrong place. I want to thank Chairman Frank Wolf, Ranking Member Fattah, and my colleague John Culberson for their comments today and the concern they have shared over the Mars Program. The Administration’s short-sighted budget proposal will curtail our future leadership in space exploration and it is my continued hope that we can reverse these cuts.”
During the hearing, several Republican Members of the Committee joined with Schiff, including Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), in questioning Bolden.
Wolf led off the hearing by focusing on the proposed cuts to the planetary science budget.
“I understand that budget pressures require you to make cuts to your science programs,” said Wolf. “But I don’t understand why those cuts are overwhelmingly in planetary science. Is planetary science the lowest priority within the directorate? Are there no other activities within earth science, astrophysics or heliophysics that could have been reduced to lessen the impact on planetary science?”
Culberson called the proposed cuts to planetary sciences “unacceptable,” and stated that NASA’s vision for future robotic exploration is “not consistent with reality.”
He continued: “I grieve for my country – I grieve for NASA. There’s no way you can say the planetary program can survive a cut of 21%.”