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Space & Planetary Science

Weiler Seeks to Cut NASA Access to Keck Observatory

By Keith Cowing
January 26, 2009

Editor’s note: According to multiple sources in the space science community, NASA Associate Administrator for Space Science, Ed Weiler, is planning to end NASA support for access to the telescopes at the Keck Observatory. Funding for that access would halt in FY 2012 if Weiler has his way. If this is allowed to happen, NASAs ability to do a variety of astronomical research will be greatly decreased. In addition to basic astronomy and astrophysics, much of the preparatory work needed for planning and then optimizing planetary science missions would also come to a halt.
What a nice start for NASA under the Obama Administration. President Obama calls for quality science and Ed Weiler seeks to cut it. Ed Weiler will go ahead and do this unless the affected scientists and project managers speak up – with attribution.
Editor’s update: I just got an email from SMD PAO’s Dwayne Brown. What is odd about this statement is that Ed Weiler’s own people are sending out emails to the space science community warning that funding is coming to an end. Yet in these emails they make no mention of what is claimed in the official PAO response below. Alan Stern left NASA almost a year ago – yet Ed Weiler still finds that blaming Stern for anything and everything to be a convenient management tool. That includes bad mouthing Stern any time his name is mentioned in a conversation as being a possible Administrator candidate (Ed, people have heard you do this multiple times). How sad that Ed Weiler needs to define his budget in this fashion i.e. by blaming others for his current problems. Weiler did the same thing to his predecessor Wes Huntress during Weiler’s last stint at SMD. There is an unfortunate behavior pattern at work here – and acting NASA Administrator Chris Scolese is not at all inclined to stop it. Not a good sign of things that lie ahead.
“Keith: This should clear up any concerns from your audience. I had planned to send it as a comment, but since folks out there need the real facts, perhaps it’s best to put it as an update on your front page. If you have follow up questions, I’ve cc’d the heads of astrophysics and planetary to respond via email. Thanks DB
The FY09 budget plan, prepared under former Science Mission Directorate Associate Administrator Alan Stern, reflects only the current 5-year agreement in place for Keck. That plan ends funding in 2012. NASA officials will consider continued funding for projects such as Keck when they meet in the coming months to discuss the next 5-year planning cycle. This is part of the normal annual federal budget deliberations. Given the success and work of the observatory, it is expected funding will continue. In fact, the science directorate, under the current leadership of Ed Weiler, finished renewing a five-year cooperative agreement to continue its support of Keck based on recommendations from the science community during last year’s NAC-subcommittee meetings.
NASA highly values its investment in Keck as a strategic research tool that enhances the scientific return of NASA missions. The observatory provides unique capabilities for making important scientific observations that affect future mission planning. One example is finding methane in the Martian atmosphere that was recently announced.
Dwayne C. Brown
Senior Public Affairs Officer”

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