Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Saving Planetary Science: Shoe Shines and Bake Sales

NASA's planetary science program supports projects that explore our solar system's planets, moons, comets and asteroids. The program has led to many fascinating science discoveries and amazing images of our cosmic neighborhood. Unfortunately, the Obama administration's proposed 2013 federal budget currently aims to cut the program's funding by 20 percent.

So physicists took action. In events organized by Alan Stern, the Principal Investigator of the New Horizons spacecraft heading to Pluto, planetary scientists across the country sold baked goods, washed cars and shined shoes to "raise money" for the budget earlier this summer.

The actions were mostly symbolic, but they truly resonated with me -- a former undergraduate researcher who worked on an instrument aboard New Horizons. In my college town of Boulder, Colorado, Stern and other planetary scientists set up shop near a large pedestrian mall to shine shoes. No doubt, quite a few Boulder residents took notice.

Now leaders in Congress have taken notice too.

As Phil Plait reported on his Bad Astronomer blog, Representative Jared Polis (D-CO) has been spreading news of the "shoe shine" efforts throughout the halls of Congress. Now a few more Representatives have publicly joined the fight to restore NASA's planetary sciences budget.

In the video below, you can see Representatives Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Adam Schiff (D-CA) supporting Stern's efforts to publicize the regrettable drop in funding.

As Congress debates the budget, I hope our nation's leaders will rethink this massive cut in NASA funding. Bill Nye the (former) science guy and current "planetary guy" agrees. As head of the Planetary Society, Bill Nye has published a persuasive article today against the proposed budget cuts.

It's great to see prominent science supporters like Alan Stern, Bill Nye and Phil Plait making an impact at the national level. We'll see how fruitful their efforts prove when the budget is finalized.

Top image: One of the car washes in Houston. Image Courtesy SWRI via their Facebook page

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