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Dreams Not Realized?
Columnist: Dr. James Green

Dreams Not Realized?
14 February 2011

The President submits his budget to Congress on February 14th. This is a highly constrained budget for NASA taking into account the economic and political times. The Administration has had to make some tough decisions in nearly every area of NASA's activities resulting in cutbacks or even eliminating some elements. Since we still don't have a passed FY 2011 budget, the Administration calls the NASA budget from FY 2012-2016 a "notional budget."

The Planetary Science Division budget just submitted has several important features for everyone to take note. First, although the top line run-out numbers are below the President's budget projection of last year, the budget in FY 2012 is very healthy and is an adequate budget in a year for which we launch and land the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), the most challenging scientific and engineering Mars mission ever! Secondly, it is a budget that is in anticipation of the Planetary Science Decadal Survey and; therefore, all potential new strategic missions, regardless of destination are not included in the out years.

Because the Administration is waiting for the results from the Planetary Science Decadal Survey, our out year budget decreases with time through FY 2016. The Planetary Decadal is for the years 2013 to 2022. After the Decadal is released, we will fill in the details, create a new program structure, and step up to the challenges of the next decade's missions. That said, no one knows what Planetary's FY 2012 budget or out year profile, just delivered to Congress, will be once enacted. Such is the nature of the times we find ourselves in.

So here is how we must begin to build the next decade's planetary program. When the survey is released on March 7th (the current projected date), the Division of Planetary Science (DPS) is working with the Decadal Chair, Steve Squyres, to communicate what's in the Survey, beginning with the planned roll-out at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston, through town hall meetings around the country and numerous other ways. My NASA Planetary Sciences team will support this roll-out in every way we can. Why? Over the last two years, we all have invested heavily in support of this Survey. Hundreds of hours have been devoted supporting Dr. Squyres, his committee and subcommittees, with input from over 1600 planetary scientists across the world. I view this Survey as not only reflective of the next decade's path forward, but also a validation of the foundation we have been building over the past decades. Each mission, each discovery, each success we have made across our planetary portfolio has been another brick in that foundation. Moreover, this Survey will serve as a guidepost to those early career scientists, engineers, and even high school students in making their career decisions and/or trade-offs in their research interests. So, this Survey serves as not just another report in my view, it is a prospectus representing Planetary Sciences' mutual investment for our future.

I challenge everyone in the community to see themselves and their role in the support of the Survey. My plan is to provide a response before the end of this Fiscal Year. Yes, this is optimistic, but we have a narrow budget process window and also have three launches to focus on. As always, I will continue to solicit your feedback and advice as we begin to implement what is in the Survey.

Bottom line, we must all get behind the new Decadal Survey if we have a chance of having the kind of program that it delineates. If the planetary community becomes divided over the results of the Survey, then I can guarantee that we will have dreams not realized.

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About: Dr. James Green
Photo of Dr. James Green
Dr. Green is the Director of Planetary Science at NASA Headquarters. He views his job as the keeper of NASA's planetary program and the top advocate for that program to flourish and grow.
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Last Updated: 26 Apr 2011