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SMD Budget Briefing: Giggling and Bad Preparation

By Keith Cowing
NASA Watch
February 7, 2007

Editor’s 7 Feb update: Dwayne Brown at PAO got me the answer about Astrobiology funding: FY07: $31.3 million; FY08: $31.9 million.

Editor’s 5 Feb note: A press briefing and telecon was held Monday afternoon with Science Mission Directorate AA Mary Cleave and her senior staff. I asked SMD’s Planetary Science Division’s Michael New what the funding situation would be for Astrobiology in FY 2008. At first he seemed a little unsure. Then he answered that it would be similar to what happened in FY 2007. No budget numbers were offered.

When I asked him (again) for specific funding numbers for the FY 2008 budget he paused, looking a little bewildered, and said that he did not know. Several of Cleave’s staff then whispered between themselves, pointed to several 4-inch thick budget briefing documents, and then said that they did not know either. PAO’s Dwayne Brown will be getting back to me with numbers.

Throughout the course of the briefing, even though Brian Berger (Space News) and I were in the room – indeed, at the same table as Cleave et al – Cleave and her staff openly chuckled, shook their heads, and made other strange faces when reporters asked questions by telephone. At one point I was tempted to record their antics with my cellphone.

Given the uproar cuts in Astrobiology received last year, one would think that Michael New would have seen that question coming and done a little more homework. Moreover, despite having two huge budget document in front of them, I am astonished that either no information was in those binders regarding Astrobiology funding – or that the staff were unable to find it if it was there.

Add in the dismissive gestures that Cleave’s staff offered when questions were asked by people who were not present in the room to see such gestures, and I can only hope that Mary Cleave’s replacement will be able to instill a little more professionalism among the SMD senior staff.

NASA Watch founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.