Astrobiology (general)

NASA SMD Memo: Status of Planetary's Research and Analysis (R&A) Program

By Keith Cowing
January 17, 2011

James L. Green
Director, Planetary Science Division
NASA Headquarters

In this calendar year the Planetary Science Division (PSD) will be launching the Juno, GRAIL, and MSL missions. These missions are our top priority for the Division and are at their funding peaks. MAVEN and LADEE are in development. In addition, we will have a comet encounter in February and two orbit insertions (MESSENGER around Mercury and Dawn around Vesta) that are just some of the exciting events from our 16 operating missions. This is truly a fabulous time for planetary science.

I am sure you are also aware of the current budget situation for NASA. We are under a continuing resolution or CR until March 4th and the new Congress has clearly stated their desire to reduce Federal spending. What you may not realize is how that status affects our daily business as we at Headquarters work hard to execute the planetary program with an uncertain budget. A CR means that NASA is receiving incremental funding at the FY10 level and not at the President’s proposed FY11 level. This is a difference of about 10%. In addition, there is much discussion going on that additional reductions may occur for those agencies, like NASA, that are in the “discretionary” category. The President has already taken steps to freeze Civil Servant salaries for the next two years.

In order to maintain our fiscal responsibilities this situation demands that the Planetary Science Division Program Officers not over commit our R&A funds too early in the year. Therefore we will under-select in each of our R&A calls and put many more on notice that they are in the “selectable” range until it is clear what our final budget is and we can meet our obligations. As a reminder, a Principal Investigator who receives a letter that states his or her proposal is in the selectable range could be funded when NASA identifies the funds, which in this case, must wait until a final budget for NASA has been determined. We will also continue to use the technique of “active grants management” that we used last fiscal year for both new and existing awards which will enable PSD to keep the amount of unobligated funding as low as possible as we enter FY12. I will work hard to minimize a reduction in our R&A budget but it is unrealistic to think it will escape untouched based on our current situation and budget climate.

I will be providing a much more detailed status of things at the upcoming meeting of the Planetary Science Subcommittee to be held at NASA Headquarters on January 26 & 27 and at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference at NASA Night on March 9th. Hope to see you all there to answer any of your questions or concerns.

Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻