Bill Nye is urging President Obama to make sure the Planetary Science Division of NASA receives as much funding as Americans spend on dog toys per year. His magic number is $1.5 billion.
As of right now, the White House's budget proposes $1.2 billion in funding for NASA's Planetary Science Division, a figure that the Planetary Society says would "effectively cripple one of our best and most effective programs of exploration."
"We argue that $1.5 billion per year – with no increases for the next five years – is the minimum necessary to pursue the most important scientific goals for solar system exploration. This includes returning a sample of Mars to the Earth for analysis, sending a mission to explore the subsurface ocean of Europa, and to keep a steady pace of exciting, cost-effective missions exploring the depths of our solar system. This level is consistent with past funding amounts, so it's not unprecedented," says the Planetary Society.
That $1.5 billion would equal less than 9% of NASA's total budget, which in its entirety is less than a half a percent of the total federal budget.
Below is Bill Nye's open letter, in full:
The space program, NASA, is the best brand the United States has. Everywhere in the world, people respect and admire what NASA does. Right now, what NASA does best is explore the Solar System through the Planetary Science Program.
People around the world shared the seven minutes of terror as we lowered an extraordinary car bristling with extraordinary instruments onto the surface of Mars from a crane held aloft in that alien sky by rockets. Many thought it was impossible because nothing like it had ever been done before. You and your family remember applauding as a replica of that rover rolled by in the inaugural parade.
Over the last few years, Congress has added back funding for the planetary program that the Office of Management and Budget has cut. We all understand it's a push and pull process–a negotiation. But planetary science deserves special attention, because it is special. It is a remarkable value in which we should maintain or even increase our investment. We recommend that planetary science receive $1.5 billion dollars a year. That's less than 10 percent of NASA's budget, which in turn is less than 0.5% of the federal budget.
The planetary science division of the space program accomplishes extraordinary things, because it is extraordinary. We want to look for signs of life on other worlds, places like Jupiter's moon Europa and Saturn's moon Enceladus. That work is done by our planetary explorers, scientists and engineers, who really are seeking signs of life on another world. Such a discovery would be astounding. It would, as so many astronomical discoveries have, change the course of human history.
Planetary exploration not only brings us astonishing discoveries from other worlds, it inherently leads to innovation, because we invest in solving problems which have never been solved before. That in turn creates new businesses and economic growth. But more importantly, supporting a robust space program raises everyone's expectation of what's possible. With a space program, everyone in our society comes to believe and expect that any problem we face can be solved. It's inherently optimistic. It's part of our national character.
So Mr. President: we strongly recommend that you make sure that funding for the planetary science program is at least $1.5 billion dollars per year. It will keep our current missions flying, ensure we create new missions, and it will lead to amazing new innovations, new businesses, and new discoveries for our future. Investing in planetary science changes the world.
Chief Executive Officer
The Planetary Society
Image via The Planetary Society, YouTube