NOW is the time to contact Congress to support astronomy!

Posted by David Eicher
on Monday, November 07, 2011

As someone who cares about science, and astronomy in particular, it’s critical that you take action now to demonstrate to the U.S. Congress your support of future astronomy. I want to share a letter from several distinguished astronomers — Debra Elmegreen, Kevin Marvel, Jack Burns, and Bethany Johns of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) — reporting on the urgent need to support astronomical funding. Please read this and contact your senators and representatives. The time could not be more critical.

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Credit: NASA
Debra Elmegreen, president; Kevin B. Marvel, executive officer; Jack Burns, AAS-CAPP chair; and Bethany Johns, John Bahcall Public Policy Fellow
Support NASA and NSF FY2012 Federal Budget, Call Your Legislator

Action Requested

The AAS, with the support of its Committee on Astronomy and Public Policy, asks that you make time to contact your legislators in both the Senate and House of Representatives to express your support for federal funding for astronomical sciences. The request is complicated as the best funding levels proposed arise from different chambers of Congress, so read the script below to ensure you have the best possible impact.

Call your members of Congress this week or next and ask them to support the Senate-proposed appropriations for NASA and the House-proposed level for NSF overall and the Senate-proposed level for NSF-MREFC with no spending cap. A sample phone script is attached below. Letters and faxes can be useful as well, but at this critical time a phone call may be the most effective action you can take.


Contact information for the offices of your senators and representative may be found through the AAS Zip-to-It Web page located at: Note that when you call the office, ask to speak to the staffer who is responsible for science issues, NASA, or NSF and give your message to them. Note that we have rounded the requested funding levels in the script below.



The Senate will soon pass a "minibus" appropriations bill for the 2012 fiscal year (FY2012) that includes the Commerce, Justice, Science, (CJS) and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2012, H.R.2596. The House of Representatives has finished its version of the CJS appropriations bill. The CJS bills propose different views of the funding needed for NASA, NSF, and other agencies. Once the Senate passes its bill, the Senate and House will finalize their negotiation to reconcile the proposed differences in funding.

NOW is the best time for AAS members to express support for federal funding of the astronomical sciences at NASA and NSF and science funding more generally.

The Senate CJS appropriations bill includes within NASA: $530 million in funding for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the Planetary Science Division would increase to $1.5004 billion, the Astrophysics Division would increase to $682.2 million, and the Heliophysics Division would decrease to $622.3 million. However, the Senate CJS Committee has cut the FY2012 NSF budget to $6.698 billion with a significant decrease in Research and Related Activities, but has level funding for Major Research Equipment & Facilities Construction (MREFC) at $117 million, where construction of astronomical observatories are funded.

The House CJS appropriations bill with regards to NASA proposed to cancel JWST. The Heliophysics Division decreases to $622 million (flat compared to the FY2012 President's Budget Request), the Astrophysics Division increases slightly to $683 million, and the Planetary Science Division increases to $1.5 billion. The House bill proposes to keep funding for NSF flat at $6.859 billion compared to FY2011, but increases R&RA to $5.6069 billion while capping MREFC at $100 million, well below the president's request and the level needed to complete and initiate planned MREFC activities.

It should be noted that all areas of science represented by the AAS have funding challenges now and looming in the near future.

The full range of solar and heliospheric physics programs has been impacted by recent budget cuts. Instruments that were selected for space missions have been deselected and the missions themselves are at risk of being canceled (e.g., Solar Probe Plus). Drastic cuts to the grants programs are especially discouraging, since these programs fund the research and analysis that produces the scientific payoff from the large investment in space-based and ground-based observatories.

Planetary sciences at NASA was proposed to decline significantly in the president's budget request and stands to have only $1.3 billion available by 2015 if the funding track is not restored. A presentation at the DPS meeting in Nantes, France, earlier this fall by Jim Green, division director for planetary science, highlighted this challenge as the largest threat to planetary sciences at NASA.

Meanwhile, Astrophysics remains in flux, with the House-proposed cancellation of JWST repaired by the Senate's proposed CJS appropriations bill, but requiring community support to ensure its completion without damage to other astrophysics programs or the other scientific divisions. The challenge is great and impacts all of our disciplines; to overcome this challenge, we must work to support our individual disciplines and the overall funding for our key agencies.

Details on the Senate and House CJS Appropriations for NASA and NSF can be found at the AAS Public Policy Blog FY2012 Appropriations for Astronomy.


Sample Script For Your Senator or Representative:

Hello, my name is [your name]. I am from [location] and a constituent of [ your Congressperson's Name ]. I am contacting you to express strong support for funding the astronomical sciences within NASA and NSF as the 2012 CJS Appropriation bill goes to conference.

I support the funding levels proposed by the House of Representatives for the National Science Foundation at $6.86 billion and its Research and Related Activities funded at $5.6 billion. However, I would like the budget for the NSF's Major Research Equipment & Facilities Construction to at least match the Senate proposed level of $117 million without the $100 million cap proposed by the House. With a cap in place, NSF will not be able to continue to build the transformational facilities that advance science and maintain U.S. leadership, especially in astronomy.

I also ask that you support the proposed funding levels for NASA's planetary science, astrophysics, and heliophysics divisions in both the Senate and House bills, or provide additional funds to ensure future scientific discoveries. Finally, I also urge that the Senate language on the James Webb Space Telescope be adopted at a level of $530 million. For over 20 years, the Hubble Space Telescope has been a symbol of U.S. leadership in science. Its powerful successor, James Webb Space Telescope, will allow us to continue in that role.

Can you please tell me where the [senator, congresswoman, congressman] stands on Fiscal Year 2012 funding for the astronomical sciences within NASA and the NSF?

As you consider potential measures for reducing deficits, we urge you to keep our nation on an innovation path that makes it possible for our economy to grow and our citizens to prosper.

Thank you for your time.

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