Bill Nye, once known as "The Science Guy" for his 1990s PBS educational television show, has cut a YouTube video in his current capacity of CEO of the Planetary Society urging people to write to President Obama to restore cuts to planetary science.
Bill Nye's letter writing campaign
In the YouTube video, Nye refers to previous letter writing campaigns that were directed at members of Congress as well as the Office of Management and Budget to restore the cuts President Obama made in NASA's planetary science program in the budget proposed early in 2012. He specifically referenced missions to Mars and to Europa, a moon of Jupiter, as being in peril if the budget cuts are not restored. Nye urges people watching the video to write President Obama to allocate an extra $1.5 billion to planetary science in NASA's budget over the next five years over what is currently projected. Nye does not suggest whether the money should come from outside of NASA's budget, be reallocated from other NASA accounts, or be paid for with more deficit spending
Planetary science budget cuts rocked the scientific community
The Washington Post reported in February that the deep cuts proposed by the Obama administration outraged both the scientific community and some members of Congress. Mars advocate Dr. Robert Zubrin blasted the budget cuts in the National Review as crippling Mars exploration after the Mars Curiosity mission and the upcoming MAVEN orbiter. InSight is a Mars probe being developed under NASA's Discovery program.
Subsequently, planetary scientists held a protest bake sale, with events in Florida among other places, where people were also urged to sign petitions and write letters to Congress urging the restoration of the budget cuts.
NASA pulls out of joint Mars sample return mission with Europe
Because of the budget cuts, NASA pulled out of a pair of joint missions with the European Space Agency to launch in 2016 and 2018 to return geologic samples from Mars, according to Aviation Week. NASA is not contemplating another rover on the surface of Mars until 2020. A report by the Mars Program Planning Group issued in September suggests that a scaled back Mars sample return mission might still be possible under the reduced budget Obama has imposed. The proposal would combine a Mars sample return mission with an Orion deep space mission which would collect the Mars samples. The same document also claims that NASA is still on track for human missions to Mars sometime in the 2030s.
Mark R. Whittington is the author of Children of Apollo and The Last Moonwalker. He has written on space subjects for a variety of periodicals, including The Houston Chronicle, The Washington Post, USA Today, the L.A. Times, and The Weekly Standard.