| 15 |
in the FY 2004 Budget |
Kevin B. Marvel and Nadia Afrin, American Astronomical Society
The sky belongs to all of humanity and astronomy has a special role to play in bringing knowledge of the cosmos to us all. Beginning with the earliest recorded history, the sky and the objects to be seen there have been observed, debated and analyzed. Only in modern times have we truly found our place in the Universe. We live out our lives on a relatively small planet orbiting a rather normal star in an average galaxy. Just in this century, astronomers have determined how the chemical elements that make up our Earth (and us!) were formed in supernova explosions. Astronomers have managed to trace the history of the Universe back to its very first moments when all matter and light were compressed into a dense energetic state that rapidly expanded (for as yet unknown reasons) forming our Universe. This cosmic explosion is now known as the Big Bang. In the past decade, astronomers have finally discovered planets around other stars, confirming that our solar system is not unique and also discovered that the Universe is not just expanding, but that it is expanding faster and faster in a kind of "runaway" situation. Amazingly, the newest results indicate that the nature of roughly 95 percent of the matter and energy content of the Universe is completely unknown to us. Each new discovery creates new questions and new technological needs. Astronomy is truly an exciting, vibrant science that adds meaning to our human existence.
NASA provides roughly 75 percent of the federal funding for astronomical research in the United States. When the budget for the Office of Space Science is changed, many American astronomers can be affected. NASA continues to provide observing opportunities for astronomers beyond the hindering absorption of the atmosphere. However, approximately two-thirds of federal support for ground-based astronomy, including nearly all support for radio astronomy, is provided by NSF. NSF funds the construction and operation of the U.S. National Observatories. These observatories play a critical role for researchers from smaller institutions for which large observing facilities are too expensive to construct and operate. They also provide access for American astronomers to the sky in the Southern hemisphere, where many important astronomical objects are located and cannot be observed from Northern hemisphere locations (e.g. the Magellanic Clouds, our nearest galactic neighbors). Lately, the Department of Energy has undertaken new astronomical research projects and the Smithsonian Institution and the Department of Defense also fund astronomical research, though on a smaller scale than both NASA and NSF.
A traditional, but arbitrary, split in funding exists between NASA and NSF with NASA funding mostly space-based observing and NSF funding mostly ground-based. This line is often blurred, since both agencies support balloon-based observing and other cross-cutting research. NASA does support ground-based observing when these activities have a direct supporting role for their space missions. A recent example is the Keck Interferometer and both agencies are pursuing collaborative efforts such as the National Virtual Observatory program, which will interconnect databases, telescopic observations, space mission archives and research tools for astronomy and astrophysics. These collaborations reflect the way astronomers pursue their research, using any means necessary to study celestial objects.
ASTRONOMY IN THE NASA BUDGET
Once again, the overall NASA budget will be increasing but, only slightly. From a level of just under $15.3 billion as finally passed for FY 2003, NASA would receive an increase of 0.9 percent to a level of just under $15.5 billion for FY 2004 (see Table II-12). The bulk of this increase would go to the Science, Aeronautics and Exploration portion of the agency's budget, which would also see an overall increase of 12.7 percent, or $450 million to $4.0 billion, while the Space Flight Capabilities (SFC ) budget would decrease by $72 million to just under $7.8 billion. Safety issues regarding the Shuttle and a growing debate on the value to the nation of NASA's mission could impact all portions of the agency budget. A "firewall" between the manned and unmanned portions of NASA's budget has more or less been in place for a number of years. Any policy changes impacting the SFC budget will likely not impact the Office of Space Science, beyond servicing the Hubble Space Telescope and the launch method for future missions.
The Office of Space Science (OSS) would experience a very healthy budgetary growth of 12.7 percent from a level of just under $3.6 billion to a FY 2004 total of $4.0 billion. Some of this increase is due to the new full-cost accounting system, which requires NASA to include the full cost of any activity in the appropriate budget line. This has increased the Space Science budget in general as now launch costs and mission operations expenses that were previously included in other portions of the budget are now included in the Space Science budget line.
The goals of the Space Science Enterprise can be classified into five broad themes :
Solar System Exploration (SSE), $1,359 million: The objective of this theme is to gain a deeper understanding of the formation and evolution of our Solar System and investigate whether life arose beyond Earth.
Mars Exploration (ME), $570 million: This theme seeks to probe into the past and present conditions on Mars, look for extinct/extant life forms and potentially pave the way for human exploration.
Astronomical Search for Origins (ASO), $877 million: This theme seeks to answer questions regarding the formation of stars and planets, the origin and properties of life and whether life exists beyond our home planet.
Structure and Evolution of the Universe (SEU), $432 million: The objective of this theme is to gain a better understanding of the formation and evolution of the universe and deepen our knowledge regarding fundamental laws of space, time and energy.
Sun-Earth Connections (SEC), $770 million: This theme explores the properties of the Sun and the affects of solar activity on Earth.
The OSS has undertaken a series programs/missions under these broad themes. Although too numerous to mention here, a few of the missions/programs stand out as particularly exciting (see Table 1).
The OSS has also undertaken some significant new initiatives including Project Prometheus (discussed in the Highlights section), Optical Communications and Beyond Einstein. Optical Communications is expected to dramatically increase the rate of data transmission while reducing the cost per byte of data returned. In the FY 2004 budget $31 million has been requested for Optical Communications ($233 million over five years). The budget request also includes $59 million ($765 million over five years) for the Beyond Einstein initiative, which seeks to deepen our knowledge regarding black holes, dark energy and the Big Bang. The main components of this program are two Einstein Great Observatories - Constellation X and the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA).
Table 1 - Major Programs/Missions
Undertaken by the OSS
ASTRONOMY IN THE NSF BUDGET
NSF funds astronomy through its Division of Astronomical Sciences. This funding is split into two basic units, Astronomy Research and Instrumentation (which funds individual researchers, instrument development projects and some research centers such as the center for adaptive optics) and Facilities (which supports the National Astronomy facilities such as the National Radio Astronomy Observatory , National Optical Astronomy Observatory (including the National Solar Observatory , Gemini 8 meter telescopes and the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center).
The Astronomy Division budget would increase in the President's FY 2004 budget by 13.5 percent (see Table II-7). The Astronomy Research and Instrumentation portion would rise from $64.3 million to $77.2 million. The Astronomy Facilities would receive an increase of $8.9 million to a FY 2004 proposed funding level of $105.8 million.
Astronomy is also supported within the NSF budget both through the Office of Polar Programs (OPP) and the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) budget line. The exact amounts expended by OPP for astronomy research were not available, but several telescopes reside at the South Pole station , including a unique instrument (AMANDA ) that uses photodetectors buried more than a kilometer deep in the Antarctic ice sheet to detect high energy neutrinos from celestial objects. The Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) telescope construction continues to be supported in the FY 2004 budget at a level of $50.8 million. ALMA construction is funded within the MREFC budget line. This telescope, an international collaboration, will be built in the high altiplano of Chile where the absorption of celestial millimeter and sub-millimeter radiation by water vapor is significantly less than at other locations on Earth (also why observing from the pole is worth the expense). (See Table 2 for NSF funding of facilities.)
Table 2 - FY 2003 & 2004 Budget Requests for Astronomy Facilities
ASTRONOMY ELSEWHERE IN THE BUDGET
Both the Navy and Air
Force fund fundamental astronomical research for a variety of reasons related
to national security. Although exact numbers were not available, the total amount
expended is not as large as either NSF or NASA. DOE also funds astrophysical research
under its Office Science. One example is the Supernova
Acceleration Probe (SNAP), which would receive $6.9 million in the FY 2004
budget under the High Energy Physics budget. The Smithsonian Institution also
supports a wide array of astronomical research through its Center
for Astrophysics, including telescopes in Hawaii and Arizona. The Submillimeter
Array , an innovative high-frequency radio telescope is nearing operational
completion on the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii and the Smithsonian is one of
numerous international partners in the Veritas
collaboration, which is a gamma-ray observatory system that continues to be developed
south of Tucson, Arizona on Mt. Hopkins at the Fred
Lawrence Whipple Observatory.