JPL's SIM Prepares to Eat SMD's Lunch

Editor's note: Looks like the Space Interferometry Mission (SIM) is not only back, but it is going to eat SMD's lunch for the remainder of this decade and part of the next. The Omnibus Appropriations bill signed into law in December 2007 brings SIM back to life and puts it on a path toward launch.

If you look at this document, page 108, you will see wording for SIM inserted into legislation at the insistence of JPL via its congressional supporters:

"A total of $60,000,000, an increase of $38,400,000 above the budget request, has been provided for the Space Interferometry Mission (SIM). The Appropriations Committees disagree with the Administration's budget request of refocusing the Navigator Program to fund only core interferometry and related planet-finding science and reducing SIM to a development program. It should be noted that this mission was recommended by the National Academies Decadal Astrophysics report in 1990 and 2000 and should be considered a priority. With the funds proposed, NASA is to begin the development phase of the program in order to capitalize on more than $300,000,000 already invested by the agency. The SIM program has successfully passed all its technological milestones and is thus ready for development."

This means that Congress is pushing to actually do this mission i.e. it is pushing it from "studies" and "risk reduction" into an overt development phase. Of course, SIM development was not in SMD's budget. In so doing, JPL and its Congressional friends are putting NASA on a clear path toward needing more than $1 billion to make this mission happen over the coming years - money that will simply get carved out of the top line for SMD's budget for years to come. Of course, this is a budget that has no prospects for growth to counter this unplanned for addition - a budget many complain has already suffered too much at the hands of the White House and Congress. Stay tuned - the planetary science community is not exactly happy about this. Let's see if the Planetary Society gets hot and bothered by this Pasadena-centric issue.

Address By Mike Griffin Before the American Astronomical Society

"But let me be clear. As it stands now, my recommendations have not been adopted. The Fiscal Year 2008 Congressional direction for NASA "to begin the development phase" of SIM is quite clear. It disregards the community-based recommendations of the NRC and NASA's other advisory committees for maintaining a balanced portfolio of large and small missions, along with basic research and technology investments. The Congress does not dream up such direction on its own; clearly, external advocacy for SIM has been successful. If it stands, then the mission will be executed, and the remainder of the astrophysics portfolio will suffer. I hope this is what you want, because it appears likely to be what you will get."

Editor's update: Now, according to Nature, the name of the lobbying firm, the organization who paid it to lobby, they target of the lobbying is clear:

Funding edict for mission has NASA over a barrel, Nature

"Such advocacy is not a secret; nearly all major research institutions have a presence on Capitol Hill. SIM is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, which, as a NASA research centre, is forbidden from directly lobbying Congress. But the lab's operator, the California Institute of Technology, also in Pasadena, can. It has previously employed Washington-based Lewis-Burke Associates to lobby for it. Certainly, someone was able to bend the ear of Adam Schiff, a Democrat who represents Pasadena in the House of Representatives. Schiff is on the subcommittee responsible for funding NASA, and he was instrumental in pushing through the language specifying $60 million for SIM, saying the project is too important scientifically for NASA to kill it. "Congress is not willing to take a back seat on this," Schiff says."

Lewis-Burke Associates - note their clients

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on January 15, 2008 2:59 PM.

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