Which mission should we shut down?
On Tuesday, the heads of the NASA Planetary Sciences program held a townhall meeting regarding their funding situation and a restructuring underway for the program.
Planetary Science at NASA has taken hit after hit over the last 5 years as federal budgets have stagnated and been cut. Now these cuts are large enough that, barring changes, one of these 2 missions will shut down.
When planetary missions are budgeted, they create a budget to launch and operate the mission during its “prime” phase, during which it should be able to accomplish its mission goals. But often, the spacecraft are so well built that they can last for years, even decades longer. Since you can’t predict how long the spacecraft will last or what instruments might become useful after a new scientific discovery, this part of the mission isn’t funded when the mission is proposed.
Basically, it doesn’t make sense to fund an extended mission until you know the spacecraft is healthy enough for an extended mission. When a spacecraft is healthy enough for a long-term mission, NASA’s Planetary program generally funds it on a yearly basis, depending on spacecraft health.
However, this setup is leading to a disaster next year. The major extended mission right now being funded is Cassini. That wonderful spacecraft was launched way back in the late 1990’s and is still doing great science today. Literally thousands of papers have been published using data from Cassini and the spacecraft is still working well; it has enough power to keep operating at full capacity for another 5 years and could live on longer than that with some instruments shut down. The seasons are changing on Saturn right now; this is our first look at the start of northern-hemisphere summer, a chance to watch the environment change on one of the most mysterious bodies in the solar system. The Cassini mission, over the next few years, should continue to do wonderful science.
But next year, it starts having competition. The prime mission for the Curiosity Rover was 2 years after landing. That rover landed in the summer of 2012…meaning the Curiosity Rover is only funded for operations through 2014. To keep that rover operating…there will need to be new funding for continuing operations.
Each of these missions will cost just over $50 million to continue full operations. That amount is small of course compared to the multi-billion dollar cost of launching…but that doesn’t matter to the current situation.
As a consequence of the budget cuts known as Sequestration…NASA’s budget has been hammered, cut by more than 10%. To protect other priorities like the International Space Station and the James Webb Space Telescope, NASA’s Planetary program has taken an even larger hit. Those cuts will be even larger next year.
If the budgetary situation does not improve, NASA will not have the funding to operate both of these spacecraft next year. One of them will have to be shut down.
Cassini is the obvious candidate since it’s been operating longer.
Alternatively, the Planetary program could possibly find the funds to keep it running…if they stopped paying for scientists to look at the data…in which case you might as well shut it down anyway because the data become useless. To some extent this has already happened – there have been huge cuts in the available funds to do research on data returning from spacecraft already, but another $50+ million in cuts would pretty much shut down “science” in this program.
This problem isn’t going to change on its own. If the budgetary situation stays as it is right now, more than likely, Cassini will be shut down this year because we can’t afford to keep it running.
The U.S. Congress right now is working on budget discussions which will determine whether or not the situation does stay as it currently stands.
Image credits: Wikimedia Commons 1, 2
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A “Get involved” guide
When the Nazi concentration camps were liberated by the Allies, it was a time of great jubilation for the tens of thousands of people incarcerated in them. But an often forgotten fact of this time is that prisoners who happened to be wearing the pink triangle (the Nazis’ way of marking and identifying homosexuals) were forced to serve out the rest of their sentence. This was due to a part of German law simply known as “Paragraph 175” which criminalized homosexuality. The law wasn’t repealed until 1969.
This should be required learning, internationally.
You need to know this. You need to remember this. This is not something to swept under the carpet nor be forgotten.
Never. Too many have died for the way they have loved. That needs stop now.
Make it stop?
I did a report on this in my World History class my sophomore year of high school. It was incredibly unsettling.
My teacher shown the class this. Mostly everyone in the class felt uncomfortable.
I have reblogged this in the past, but it is so ironic that it comes across my dash right now. I a currently working as a docent at my city’s Holocaust Education Center (( I say currently because I’ve also done research and translation for them )) and out current exhibit is one on loan from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum ((USHMM)). This is a little known historical fact that Paragraph 175 was not repealed after the war and those convicted under Nazi laws as a danger to society because they were gay were not released because they had be convicted in a court of law. There was no liberation or justice for them as they weren’t considered criminals, or even victims for that matter. They were criminals who remained persecuted and ostracized and kept on the fringes of society for decades after the war had been won. Paragraph175 wasn’t actually repealed until 1994. And it was only in May 2002, that the German parliament completed legislation to pardon all homosexuals convicted under Paragraph175 during the Nazi era. History has forgotten about these men and women — please educate yourselves so this does not happen again. Remember this history. Remember them.
Unsurprisingly this did not come up once in my high school Holocaust class.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.