Thursday, March 02, 2006

Bush Flip-Flops on NASA Budget

Some of the most highly promoted missions on NASA's scientific agenda would be postponed indefinitely or perhaps even canceled under the agency's new budget, despite its administrator's vow to Congress six months ago that not "one thin dime" would be taken from space science to pay for President Bush's plan to send astronauts to the Moon and Mars.

The cuts come to $3 billion over the next five years. Bush spends that much for one hour in Iraq.

Among the casualties in the budget, released last month, are efforts to look for habitable planets and perhaps life elsewhere in the galaxy, an investigation of the dark energy that seems to be ripping the universe apart, bringing a sample of Mars back to Earth and exploring for life under the ice of Jupiter's moon Europa — as well as numerous smaller programs and individual research projects that astronomers say are the wellsprings of new science and new scientists.

Could you imagine if we found life on other planets and they said "take us to your leader"? How embarassing would that be?

The new cuts, they say, will drive young people from the field, ending American domination of space science and perhaps ceding future discoveries to Europe. Won't we feel foolish when the secret of the creation of the universe is solved by a housewife from Bulgaria.

Many scientists said the roots of their plight lay in the Bush administration's refusal to ask Congress for enough money to carry out the Moon-Mars program, announced with fanfare two years ago.

For example, the James Webb Space Telescope — the designated successor to the Hubble telescope, designed to see back in time and space within a whisper of the Big Bang (no reference to Dick Cheney) — was ranked first on the astronomers' wish list in an influential National Academy of Sciences survey in 2000. But delays and technical problems have almost doubled its cost, to more than $4.5 billion, and postponed its launching by two years, to 2013.

The loss of the James Webb telescope is unfortunate - I would've liked to have seen the universe back when George Bush didn't exist.

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