back to the science subcommittee appropriations

In case I haven’t gone on about it enough, I think the James Webb Space Telescope has been tossed under the bus.
It is deleted, after being isolated and hung out to dry.

It is possible that funding will be restored in the Senate or in conference, but I think the deal has been made, implicitly, that Goddard gets to keep the (equally or worse mismanaged) big weather and environmental science programs, and JWST is sacrificed as a token high profile budget cut.

The money does not go back to astrophysics, which then has a permanent large cut in programs, and with ongoing missions and obligations, this leaves no room for any significant new projects – maybe 1-2 explorer class missions for the rest of the decade.

I think we’ll see further cuts in MODA for existing missions, probably based on Senior Review rankings – that probably means cuts for Chandra operations and analysis, and maybe a lowering of the “Hubble constant”.
I predict Planck will be allowed to finish, and Fermi and Kepler will be protected.
Hopefully NuSTAR will finally fly, but I hear GEMS may be in trouble.

No idea if I am right on this, it is up to politicians.

So, what about NSF?
Well, they get a small increase over 2011, but much less than the President’s request.
Again, Senate is not done with them. This may change.

There are some interesting items:
there is a mandate for cross-cutting fundamental neuroscience research, as a new initiative, which will suck up some funding. Yes, they note that this is NIH turf…

Cybersecurity/infrastructure is a priority, as is “advanced manufacturing” – in the NSF?

In an interesting contrast, the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction is $17M below 2011 and $124M below request.
So, won’t actually be making much of anything.
That ought to be enough to finish ALMA and Advanced Solar Telescope, and keep ALIGO and Ocean Observatory going, but nothing else.
This is probably to head off NEON – National Ecological Observatory – but incidentally also keeps the door closed on LSST.

So, some curiosities: $150M in research on radio spectrum access? EARS?
Pending authorization?
Not I presume for the NRAO radio quiet zone… we can do this but not SKA?

There is language telling the NSF to expect directed program termination and reductions, and to use that funding for national security and economic competitiveness increases, fundamental physical science is listed as part of that…

This may refer to proposals to cut NSF funding to social sciences; and/or internal NSF proposals to reduce or terminate some programs, including in Education/Human Resources.

Whole report has some sharp language on ineffective or duplicate efforts in STEM, expect some programs there will quietly go away.

Going to be some hard times – serious loss of soft money positions is likely, I saw a tweet that Meg Urry was quoted estimating 500 astronomy positions would be lost.
Sounds about right. That would be 10-20% of research astronomy positions in the US.
Maybe another 2,000 or so engineering and management positions lost.
Likely to be a serious squeeze on postdocs.

Big question is whether this is a 1-2 year squeeze and then we’re clear, or a secular decline.
Wish I knew.


  1. #1 FuturePostdoc
    July 13, 2011

    “That would be 10-20% of research astronomy positions in the US….Likely to be a serious squeeze on postdocs.” Not to mention budget issues impacting faculty hires at the state and university level. With multi-year droughts in the mission schedule combined with plausible follow-on decrease of future grant support in related bands, the personnel pipeline will run dry in hard-hit fields, a significant loss of experience that will be difficult to regain. For postdocs it already feels like a secular decline, ARAA boost in our numbers notwithstanding…

  2. #2 Hans
    July 15, 2011

    The JWST debacle (and a management debacle it most certainly is) is going to have huge effects on at least space astrophysics budgets. If JWST doesn’t launch until at least 2018 (which is almost assured right now, assuming survival) the astronomy community will be twiddling it’s collective thumbs for a long time. In fact, if JWST survives, it is most likely going to be delayed even longer. The NSF isn’t looking that good either, with a level budget likely. Federal support prospects for a GSMT is more questionable than it has ever been.

    In this climate, and looking ahead to at least the next five or six years, I’m not optimistic. Sadly, I can’t really recommend astrophysics as a research career very highly these days to new students. To the extent that academic leadership sees this collapse coming, we’re not going to see a lot of investment in the academic side of the house (as in, department-building).