Science Cuts Underway at NASA - Feedback

From "Science is the 3rd railof politics atNASA and is useless" said Mike Griffin in the outbrief of the ESAS study. I think that speaks for itself.

From "I was at the meeting to which you refer and Mike did NOT (and would not) say those words. He did refer to science as the 3rd rail of NASA as far as Congress is concernedbut never said it was useless!"

The truth is obviously somewhere in between.

Editor's note: It is becoming quite clear that a substantial effort is underway to gut NASA's basic science capabilities - both on the ground and on-orbit. Comments? Send them to

Your comments thus far

"I wish NASAWatch would recognize that aeronautical science and earth science are legitimate sciences just as life science and astrobiology are--and that the President's new Space Vision is hurting aero and earth science funding far more than it is hurting the other two.

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin was quoted July 30 in the media as saying, "I report to the President. If he wants me to do something else, I am sure he knows my phone number. Until I hear from him, we know what our direction is."

I do not believe the is correct attitude for the administrator of NASA. He should be advising the President on space and aeronautics policy rather than simply saluting and following orders. For example, does President Bush understand that NASA aeronautics research and earth science research will suffer serious cuts so the President's space vision to the moon and Mars can be realized?

I suspect no adviser has gone to that level of detail with Bush and he has no inkling of the impact those cuts will have on American economic and technical aviation leadership in the world or on our understanding of man-caused threats to atmospheric and oceanic environments. Bush was sold on the moon/Mars vision by former NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe, an accountant with no technical understanding of these impacts either.

I think it is time for Griffin to stop saluting and start trying to lead the agency in sensible directions."

"One of the comments in the science cuts section is:

"Still not convinced that the manned spaceflight program was never serious about Space Station science? Let me give a couple examples of very cynical claims regarding Space Station capabilities that had been touted. One was that it would provide a great microgravity platform meeting some highly rigorous acceleration requirements that the Space Shuttle would have trouble meeting. The finished product only fails to meet the vibrational acceleration requirements by two orders of magnitude. That is more than a factor of one hundred. This is true even when using vibration isolation equipment. It is even worse without it. I had never heard of a on orbit facility failing to meet a basic science requirement by one order of magnitude and still receiving the funding to get it completed."

All the analysis done do date shows that ISS would be a fantastic platform for microgravity science. It is not 2 orders of magnitude off the requirements (perhaps a single element may exceed its requirement for a frequency band, but not the rolled up vehicle requirement) when using attenuation (I assume the commentor is referring to ARIS). There is (was?) guaranteed microgravity performance. Between the requirements of the vehicle to minimize disturbances and the improved performance of ARIS over the initial design thanks to software updates, ISS is one quiet vehicle. It's so quiet there's margin to give in many respects. Too bad science started jumping ship well over a year ago."

"Here come the opinions, informed or not.Some of your readers obviously do understand why the cuts are happening, while others seem to be ranting bitter with a chip or two on their shoulders.

Imust take particular exception, however,with thefellow who defended hiscynicism by referencinga supposed operational incompatibility of the dynamics ofthe Centrifuge Facility on the ISS:

"Take a look at where the Life Sciences centrifuge facility would have been located on Space Station.[...] If you tried to spin up or spin down this huge centrifuge in its planned location on the far end of the Space Station you would produce large torques on the Space Station. To maintain attitude would have required significant expenditures of propellant. There is no way anyone associated with the design of Space Station actually planned to ever make much use of this capability."

Did this fellow not take basic Physics classes? Themagnitude of a pure torque on the ISS structure, such as that generated by a spin-up or spin-down of a centrifuge,would not increase or decreasedepending on its distance from the ISS vehicle's center of mass. Thiscynic is apparently mixing uphis forces & torques. Besides, the solution to hissuggested"significant propellant expenditures" problem would be relatively straight-forward, something "anyone associated with the design of the space station" would know--the Centrifuge Accommodation Module would contain a counter-rotating flywheel poweredwith some of thesubstantialelectricity provided by the ISS's(eventual)extensive acreage of solar arrays.This would cancel out the CAM's torque completely.

If you're going to be cynical, at least get your basic science right before you offer your "insight."

"Wanted to give another perspective on the changes going on in NASA's microgravity research program (i.e. life and physical sciences).

For the entire shuttle/ISS era the goal focus of the research done on these vehicles has been aimed at a mix of applied, operational research, and fundamental research using microgravity and the other characteristics of the space environment as tools to better understand physical and biological processes. The program was very much an NIH/NSF type program. Over the years the program and it's capabilities have grown to accommodate a wide range of research areas and topics.

With the implementation of the President's space exploration vision, the program is being changed to a strictly applied operational focus, with an emphasis on products and deliverables needed to support exploration. This has resulted in a narrowing of the scope of research areas and a concomitant reduction in the size of the program. These changes are being accompanied by a reevaluation of the capabilities of ISS, within the framework of the exploration vision, and taking into account a realistic assessment of the resources that are going to be available to carry out research on it. Clearly this is not occurring without some pain to the research community, especially that component that was more linked to fundamental research.

The point is, yes things are changing, but it is to shape the program to better support the new goal of space exploration."

"NASA has been given a mission by the President, one ratified by Congress through budget increases, that is critical to this nation--get us back into Space exploration. So, while NASA has to coax a troublesome Shuttle back into orbit to finish construction of an almost equally troublesome ISS, it has to:

1. Design and build a new manned spacecraft
2. Design and build rocket to get that spacecraft into earth orbit
3. Design and build a heavy launcher that can boost the payload needed for the spacecraft to travel to, land upon, and return from, the Moon
4. Modify KSC's launch facilities these launchers

Most analysts say that NASA does not, and will not, have the funds to do everything that it does now and still get these projects successfully completed on time. Anyone looking at this list of tasks would have to agree.

Just as making an investment does for a time remove capital that could be used for the here and now, the money being directed to VSE will result in funding cuts to many cherished projects and programs. That means non-critical, that is areas that do not directly contribute to the fulfillment of the VSE, must be placed temporarily on the back burner while NASA invests its limited funds on fulfilling the VSE. If people within and without NASA do not like this, they are free to work with the Administration and Congress to have more funds appropriated for their desired projects.

That Mike Griffin has said that he cannot place life-sciences ahead of the CEV and other projects needed to fulfill the VSE shows focus, discipline, and an appreciation of NASA's budget realities. He understands from a political perspective (allot of politicians have put allot of political capital through their support) that if NASA fails in this effort, then NASA could very well be seen as fundamentally dysfunctional and it's days of exploration would very likely be numbered if not ended, as would its days of expanding the horizons of science.

Fulfilling the Vision for Space Exploration is the only goal that matters at this time. Anyone not understanding that just doesn't get it."

"From a 30-odd year perspective, the research segment of Nasa should have been detached in 1958 to the Department of Transportation or some other entity because even back then I knew that the space cowboys would suck the research budget dry. It took them nearly fifty years but they've finally accomplished it."

"Science at NASA is the third rail? Not from my observations. Not in the manned spaceflight program. If you were paying attention you would have seen that the science content of the Space Station was cut dramatically long before Griffin came on board. Griffin just has gotten stuck with making it official.

Don't believe me? Check the history. When NASA was trying to sell the Space Station they created a field called Microgravity Science. (This was a bit of a misnomer since it was not a field of science but a condition created by the orbital environment.) NASA began cutting back on microgravity science almost exactly at the timeframe at which it became apparent that the funding to build the Space Station funding was reasonably secure.

The first science to go was the Space Station Furnace Facility, the major materials science platform on the Space Station. This occurred in the mid nineties. Next dozens of flight experiments were "deferred" due to Space Station budget problems. Then these experiments and related facilities were simply canceled. This was done relatively quietly. Now we have finally reached the point that there are so few experiments left that NASA simply has eliminated microgravity as a whole. At this point it is hard to argue against it since there was a marching army supporting experiments and facilities that no longer exist.

The situation in the Life Sciences is about as bad. NASA has apparently decided to keep some experiments and facilities involving human physiology. These are the activities managed at JSC. The work at Ames and Kennedy can go to the devil.

We have not even reached Space Station core complete and we have already given up conducting virtually any science activities on board. This can only lead one to the cynical conclusion that the management of the manned spaceflight program never cared about Space Station science. The only reason any science survives is to continue to justify keeping astronauts on the Space Station.

Still not convinced that the manned spaceflight program was never serious about Space Station science? Let me give a couple examples of very cynical claims regarding Space Station capabilities that had been touted. One was that it would provide a great microgravity platform meeting some highly rigorous acceleration requirements that the Space Shuttle would have trouble meeting. The finished product only fails to meet the vibrational acceleration requirements by two orders of magnitude. That is more than a factor of one hundred. This is true even when using vibration isolation equipment. It is even worse without it. I had never heard of a on orbit facility failing to meet a basic science requirement by one order of magnitude and still receiving the funding to get it completed.

Want another example? Take a look at where the Life Sciences centrifuge facility would have been located on Space Station. This facility was supposed to be capable of supporting experiments at accelerations of fractions of one g - a premier facility providing an environment that could not be provided on earth. If you tried to spin up or spin down this huge centrifuge in its planned location on the far end of the Space Station you would produce large torques on the Space Station. To maintain attitude would have required significant expenditures of propellant. There is no way anyone associated with the design of Space Station actually planned to ever make much use of this capability.

If someone wants to think about further science cuts then maybe they should attack Astrobiology. In an frightening parallel with the course of microgravity science, NASA created "Astrobiology" to interest the science community and the public in space exploration, in this particular case the human exploration of Mars. Maybe the powers that be in the manned spaceflight program think it is a bit premature to cut Astrobiology just yet. The support for Mars missions is still a bit tenuous. But one thing I would bet on. If the same management is still in charge, then you will see Astrobiology funding begin to disappear about the time that it is clear that the manned missions to Mars have solid funding support.

In the meantime the public should ask why should the manned spaceflight program and in particular the Space Station be supported. It is clear that its management has no interest in science. All that is left is a glorified Outward Bound program for a select group of astronauts."

"It seems that some individuals believe that the S in NASA stands for Science. NASA needs to stick to science research that only NASA can perform. The Mars Exploration Rovers, Cassini, and the Terrestrial Planet Finder are wonderful examples of this. The problem is that NASA is swarmed with lower-profile science research that causes one to wrinkle an eyebrow as to their application toward aerospace flight. These science cuts are long overdue, and projects that are axed should now do what should have been done from the start and seek funding from more applicable and appropriate sources."


It seems to me that "Hurricane Griffin" has not just affected the bioastronautics & microgravity community.

Let's see: Kepler- cut back/ delayed. Discovery 11- acquisition cancelled. Discovery 12- indefinite hold on the AO. MTO- pushed back. Juno- slow start. MSL- possibly delayed until '11. James Webb- slowed down. All this; and there's more to come, no doubt.

One begins to wonder if Griffin isn't just a friendly face brought in to shut NASA down.

-Another Laid-Off Engineer"

"I'm not convinced the cuts are really making there way too far into planetary science, or at least the Mars program. The expected funds for human prep for Mars have gone away, but they were only "here" for a few months and hadn't translated into anything but the most basic paper study missions. As for the Mars missions listed by a previous writer, if MTO was a science mission then I'm confused over the definition of science - good riddance to a confused waste of $1/2bn IMHO. I doubt MSL will get slipped (or if it makes any sense to slip it) - but it may get canned if it massively overruns (but again, hey, that's why we cost-cap missions, right?) In all, I think it maybe stretching to imagine a link with the ISS down scopes -- seems more like a response to overrun, the vision guys realizing it's going to be decades before we go to Mars, and fat trimming. In either case, if sacrificing missions like MTO is necessary for the CEV, then as a planetary scientist, I vote to build the CEV!"

"Under Science had been the development of an optical communications capability, with a 2009 demo from Mars at TEN times the data rate of the present RF systems, with a clear technology path to ONE HUNDRED times the present data rate. Such a system would allow huge amounts of science data to be returned in the near future, allowing possibly completely new data-gathering approaches. This demonstration has now been summarily cancelled with a terribly short-sighted twitch.

An MLCD (Mars Laser Communications Demonstration) team member"

"Someone once said that there was no doubt that we would colonize the Moon and Mars. The only question was what language would be spoken. My money is on Chinese."

"Anunintended consequence of the precipitous and wholesaletermination of NASA's life sciences research will be the loss of trust in the agency by the variouslife sciences communities that have worked on NASA research problems for many years. While legally NASA can withdraw and/or redirect funding for its own reasons at any time, ethically the agency has a responsibility to try to fulfill its commitments if it expects the lifesciences community to care about NASA's future research needs. It is nave to believe that investigators, who havecommitted some or all of their laboratories' efforts to NASA research only to see their projects terminated prematurely, willcare to reapplywhen NASAfinally announces that it is once again soliciting life sciences research. The better investigatorswill have moved on to more reliable funding agencies such as NIH and NSF, and will view future NASA solicitations in the context of "fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me." The sad part of this rush to defer life sciences research to someunspecified futuretime will be the loss of some truly first rate projects, which have taken several years to develop with NASA support, and from which NASA will derive neither the credit nor the benefit. It is in NASA's long term interestto be less global and more judicious in its "redirection" of research funds in order to preserve the hard won trustand good will of the life sciences researchcommunity, whichwill beneeded to achieveNASA's human space flight goals.

-From aclose observer of NASA Life Sciences research"

"2.7 Million dollars per year were being sent to Ames to develop Optimized Energy Bars for Rodents. If NASA funds things like this with its science dollars, then NASA deserves to have its funding cut. The interesting thing is that Griffin wasn't planning on cutting SMD's budget last I heard. These cuts are coming from reducing ESMD's R&T--which had a bloated $2B/year budget anyway. In the end, it comes down to this: should we do science with the Shuttle and ISS, or should we admit that these are going the way of the Dodo no matter what we do and develop a new launch vehicle and CEV and get on with exploration? We desperatley need a new launch vehicle, something that can lift more than an EELV's payload, something that has better saftey than one loss in 100 launches. If R&T has to suffer for a few years while we develop these things, then so be it."

"IMHO big cuts in biological and physical sciences are an inevitable consequence of the "Core complete" ISS configuration. The axe just took four (yes, 4) years to fall. As the NAS Space Studies Board report makes clear, NASA deleted 89% of the science planned for the ISS when it cancelled the CRV (and the 7-man crew) in 2001. By September 2002 it was clear that the ISS would NOT be a world-class science facility. Of course the Challenger crash made the situation even worse, but I think the die was already cast: Mike Griffin is just now cutting back work on experiments that were unlikely to fly 4 years ago."

"The Vision for Space Exploration was conceived as a program in which science goals would drive the exploration plan. What now seems to be happening is something we had feared from the start: it is evolving from a science-driven program into a hardware/vehicle development program."


I just finished a fairly impassioned defense of the ISS and the Shuttle based on the idea that the ISS is a work in progress, and that Science has to follow engineering phases.

Now the evidence is that basic research that would be carried out is being cut. I have to admit it is getting hard to find anything to defend or justify in the current state of affairs.

I think that there is a whirlwind that is being reaped because someone in the upper reaches of NASA or Bush's science group (whatever insane asylum they are in) decided that they could advance the case to replace the STS system by trash talking the current program.

Added to an arbitrary and unnecessary limit of "2010" to ground the current system and you have what we have today.

Idiots in charge, seemingly if they organization is doing what they wish, or incompentent and misguided if the current state of affairs makes sense.

It made no sense to start a top to bottom "justify your job" review of all personell just to fit the fact that there was a new administrator, before the current flight. I believe we are lucky that something didn't fall thru the cracks with that stress added on to the extraordinary stress that a NASA Manned Space Flight Program position brings to the job.

I can only assume that the reductions are due to something found out by the above assessment, and that somewhere someone will figure that some science and operational needs will be fulfilled by an operational ISS. But there seems to be no good that can come of what we have now."

"Yes, big cuts in life sciences research, on the ground as well as in space, are well underway. This started with Craig Steidle's group, and when Mike Griffin's people saw the limited protests from the life sciences community, they accelerated the cuts. And it's not just biology; human research is being cut substantially as well. Life sciences advocates did make their case to Congress, which resulted in the statements in pending bills for continued ISS and life sciences research, but the NASA administration is racing to make the cuts regardless.

This strategy may be shortsighted, however. What happens when the press and the American publiclearn how little US research will be done on ISS? What will they think of all the money spent for Shuttle fixes, not to speak of the astronauts continuing to risk their lives, to "finish" a station so Europeans, Russians, and Japanese can do a few experiments?Will NASA be able torespond to those questions?"

"Not only is NASA Ames getting affected by the science cuts, but subcontractors are feeling the pressure too. I work at the company that is developing both the Advanced Animal Habitat and the Plant Research Unit (, and we have had our hands full dealing with these contracts. In the last year, we have had an explosion in employment requirements, just to meet the accelerated requirements put forth by Ames. Now we need to "Stop Work" in three weeks, just before Congress reconvenes. What will happen to us employees? Unless Orbitec gets some hefty SBIR awards or non-NASA contracts in the next few months, many of us will likely be out of work. It seems as though Griffen et al. simply don't want us to have our jobs. What, exactly, is the harm in accepting an extra $100 million to continue development of two projects that are already nearing completion?

-a concerned subcontractor"

"I have been closely monitoring the demise of life sciences research since January of this year. Actually it has been on the sharp decline since the collapse of the Office of Biological and Physical research, during congressional recess last year. Aren't we in recess again? The NASA administrator has stated that life sciences will be deferred and "put back together later" in order to accelerate CEV development, to reduce the gap in the shuttle, to move forward on an un-mandated program set forth by the White House and OMB. I do not envy the position Mike Griffin is in, however, it is naive to think this research can be continued in university laboratories. The research uses "microgravity" as it does a microscope, it is a tool to extract knowledge. As of this writing, the only access to microgravity in the U.S. is through NASA, so unfortunately the life science community has to rely on NASA for this research. It is also naive to think that a $100M+ life science program will interfere with the intent to develop a CEV. So, as you can see from your reader responses, some of us do care about a "rat's ass", though some at NASA could not give a "rat's ass"."

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on August 12, 2005 9:45 AM.

MRO is On Its Way To Mars was the previous entry in this blog.

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