Murmurs of disbelief and “say it ain’t so” rippled across social media outlets late Wednesday and early Thursday in reaction to an op-ed by Mars Society President Robert Zubrin, who claimed that “the Obama administration intends to terminate NASA’s planetary exploration program.” The article was published in the Washington Times, and claimed that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was also targeting the space astronomy program “for destruction.” This would all be horrible if true, but the director of NASA’s Planetary Science division, Jim Green assured members of the NASA Advisory Council’s Planetary Science subcommittee that it is not.
“It is not true the planetary program is being killed,” Green told members during a teleconference, according to Space News.
While the future of NASA’s budget is not looking stellar by any means, gutting NASA’s “crown jewel” – the very successful planetary science division — seems ludicrous and Zubrin’s claims appear unfounded. He supplied no source of his details beyond saying he had “leaked” information. Likely, his article was his way of advertising an upcoming symposium he is part of, a tactic he has used before.
NASA is likely facing budget cuts but not because of President Obama. In 2010, the President proposed to give NASA an additional $6 billion over five years, but Congress couldn’t agree on the 2011 budget and NASA since has worked under a continuing resolution at 2010 funding levels. In the latest budget proposal, Obama proposed freezing NASA’s budget for five years (not cutting), putting the budget at $18.7 billion annually through fiscal 2016. The budget provided $5 billion for science, including $1.54 billion for planetary science, along with $3.9 billion for future exploration systems and $569 million for aeronautics research.
NASA is still waiting for Congress to vote on their budget.
Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today’s Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT’s Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is the author of the new book “Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos.” She is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.