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US Astronomy Facing Severe Budget Cuts and Facility Closures 157

Posted by Soulskill
from the but-i-like-pie-in-the-sky dept.
Nancy_A writes "The U.S. astronomy budget is facing unprecedented cuts, including the potential closure of several facilities. A new report by the National Science Foundation's Division of Astronomical Sciences says available funding for ground-based astronomy could undershoot projected budgets by as much as 50%. The report recommends the closure – called 'divestment' in the new document — of iconic facilities such as the Very Long Baseline Array and the Green Bank Radio Telescope, as well as shutting down four different telescopes at the Kitt Peak Observatory by 2017."
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US Astronomy Facing Severe Budget Cuts and Facility Closures

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  • But we can have .. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ackthpt (218170) on Friday August 17, 2012 @04:34PM (#41029285) Homepage Journal

    All the rockets we want, as long as they are ordered by the Pentagon.

    Science, it's now for total warfare.

    • by daveschroeder (516195) * on Friday August 17, 2012 @04:44PM (#41029469)

      ...and has throughout our history — but it shouldn't be the only thing that drives space science and other human achievement.

      If you're interested in a truly insightful and inspiring speech on this topic, I highly encourage you to set aside an hour for Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson's recent talk on just this subject at the University of Wisconsin - Madison:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqJzHHkmJ-8 [youtube.com]

      It's well worth your time to watch, to think about — and to discuss with your elected officials.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        tax breaks for oil companies? Always in the plan.

        Solar and stellar astronomy? Cut.

        "Then we're stupid, and we're going to die"

        --Khyris

      • If you're interested in a truly insightful and inspiring speech on this topic, I highly encourage you to set aside an hour for Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson's recent talk on just this subject at the University of Wisconsin - Madison:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqJzHHkmJ-8 [youtube.com]

        It's well worth your time to watch, to think about â" and to discuss with your elected officials.

        I am truly interested in what the good Dr. has said in his 1 hour speech, but unfortunately, I just do not have that extra one hour to listen it

        So ...

        Can any kind soul, who has listened to the good Dr. one-hour-speech, please summarize what he has said?

        Thank you, whoever you are !!

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You think we rode to the moon on civilian hardware? Those were repurposed ICBMs made to blow up cities. The SALT treaties put an end to them.

      MOST of the cool stuff NASA did in the 60's was on military hardware or tests for the air force (using air force hardware).

      You seem shocked as if this is a new thing. The same people who build the NASA hardware (what they do build) are the same ones who build the military hardware. NASA has always been getting other agencies leftovers... Pretty much the shuttle is

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by bwintx (813768)

        Pretty much the shuttle is the only BIG project that they did all by themselves.

        Um, Saturn 5?

        • by arth1 (260657)

          What, you mean the series of rockets developed by Wernher von Braun, based on the German V-2 rocket?

        • The Saturn V was very much yet another military pissing contest project, specifically with the Russians and used the usual suspects, Boeing, North American Aviation (of P-51 fame) and Douglas Aircraft as contractors, and Nazi scientists providing the brains. All technologies developed were also very much developed by and intended for subsequent military application. The shuttle, inherited much of the Saturn V technology and was also NOT a NASA project, but another cabal of MIC contractors from the Saturn
          • by ukemike (956477)

            the Saturn V technology and was also NOT a NASA project, but another cabal of MIC contractors from the Saturn V project as well as now a few others. NASA hasn't done any significant launch vehicles on their own.

            If your opinion mattered what you said would be a huge slap in the face of the THOUSANDS of American engineers and scientists who worked on the space program.

        • by Baloroth (2370816)
          The Saturn 5 used the F-1 engine which was initially developed for the Air Force. They halted that when they realized they didn't need an engine that big, but initial development was for military purposes. And of course it was developed by German scientists who headed the whole Saturn family, from experience they had from developing the V-2 rockets. So really, it was, at least indirectly, developed by the Nazis.
          • by ukemike (956477)
            The F-1 engine is about as close to the V1 as a 1985 Porsche 911 is to a 1951 VW beetle.
            • by tsotha (720379)
              He said V-2. And he's right - the F-1 is a direct descendent of the V-2.
              • by ukemike (956477)
                I got the v1 v2 bit wrong. And the 911 is a direct descendant of the original beetle. But the F-1 contained the contributions of an army of skilled engineers who were rocket geeks and never Nazis.
                • by tsotha (720379)
                  The 911 is a direct descendant of the original beetle? Seems hard to believe. I agree the F-1 wasn't wholly developed by Germans. But without the V-2 I doubt it would have existed at all.
      • by Bill_the_Engineer (772575) on Friday August 17, 2012 @05:23PM (#41030021)

        You think we rode to the moon on civilian hardware? Those were repurposed ICBMs made to blow up cities. The SALT treaties put an end to them.

        Cool story bro. Too bad it's completely wrong.

        The Saturn series rockets were designed by Von Braun's team to launch military satellites into low earth orbit. Every single one of them was launched from Cape Canaveral. The Saturn V was the largest of the Saturn series and was built for the purpose of launching astronauts into space. NASA never launched astronauts on rockets that were not designed to be human-rated.

        The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) treaty (more specifically SALT I) agreement was made in May 1971 which is a little late for the Saturn V to repurposed since it flew from Nov 9, 1967 to Dec 6, 1972.

        BTW, ICBM were originally mounted on Atlas rockets then were replaced by the Titan II rockets.

        • by Baloroth (2370816)

          BTW, ICBM were originally mounted on Atlas rockets then were replaced by the Titan II rockets.

          And those Atlas rockets [wikipedia.org] carried the first Americans into orbit. Slightly modified to be "man rated", of course, but it was based on the ICBM and was most certainly not designed from the ground up for manned missions. Of course NASA would never launch astronauts on non-man-rated rockets, that's the whole point of "man rated".

          • You are correct the Mercury missions used the Atlas LV-3B rockets. The LV-3B were derived from the Atlas SM-65D design (as noted in your wikipedia link). The mercury missions were orbital missions. The grand parent posts referred to Lunar mission which was the Apollo missions done on Saturn rockets. Both Mercury and Apollo missions were done prior to the Salt I treaty agreement.

            Also I forgot to mention that the rockets used in our nuclear defense program are still being repurposed for non-manned science mi

      • by khallow (566160)

        You think we rode to the moon on civilian hardware?

        Who wouldn't think that? It's true after all. The taint of private enterprise is all over any government endeavor, much less Apollo.

      • You think we rode to the moon on civilian hardware? Those were repurposed ICBMs made to blow up cities. The SALT treaties put an end to them.

        MOST of the cool stuff NASA did in the 60's was on military hardware or tests for the air force (using air force hardware).

        Nobody's going to dispute that the military has produced some major technological breakthroughs. A lot of the early efforts in computing were military cryptographic efforts, the military played a critical role in developing navigational technologies like radar and later GPS, and of course, DARPA brought us the internet.

        But there are a couple of things to keep in mind here. First, I'd argue it's pretty hard *not* to have one or two major technological breakthroughs when you're spending $700 billion per year

  • by fiannaFailMan (702447) on Friday August 17, 2012 @04:36PM (#41029309) Journal

    Tell congress we're under attack from space A-rabs and we need surveillance equipment pronto. We also need drones to go up there and find out what's going on. And manned craft as well just for good measure in case the drones miss anything.

  • Kickstarter

    • by ackthpt (218170)

      Kickstarter

      Y'know, I'd really like to see the government take an approach like that on things. Not just assume we're all going to keep paying out taxes for whatever that bunch of idiots in Congress deems fit and proper. When I look at some budgets and calculate my share, I'm not sure I really feel like paying that much for some things.

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        It sounds neat, but lots of stuff would end up unfunded. I predict the same things that are being unfunded today.

      • Re:Hey NASA, idea: (Score:4, Informative)

        by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland @ y a hoo.com> on Friday August 17, 2012 @04:45PM (#41029477) Homepage Journal

        Typical. You have no clue how much something takes to do, so naturally you assume your share is tooo much.

        Here is a clue: Tax dollars aren't yours. Ever. They are all ours, societies. DO you really want New York, Detroit and Dallas and California to be the effective determination for all tax money?

        • Re:Hey NASA, idea: (Score:4, Insightful)

          by ackthpt (218170) on Friday August 17, 2012 @04:53PM (#41029627) Homepage Journal

          Typical. You have no clue how much something takes to do, so naturally you assume your share is tooo much.

          Here is a clue: Tax dollars aren't yours. Ever. They are all ours, societies. DO you really want New York, Detroit and Dallas and California to be the effective determination for all tax money?

          Figure this: WW II was funded by the sale of bonds. Bond drives went on everywhere and were widely supported by the entertainment industry to underwrite the massive expense of a massive undertaking. But today we don't buy War Bonds, it's assumed we are all going to pony up $5,000 (on average) for our share of the annual Pentagon Budget, for whatever they decide they need. Let. Me. Tell. You. $5,000 is probably what I could have afforded for war bonds, had I lived in the 1940's in 1940's adjusted dollars. But this has been on-going since after the war ended and is still eating up a high percentage of our GDP, for years on end, even when we are at complete peace.

          • by Mitreya (579078)

            even when we are at complete peace.

            We must be bombing a dozen foreign countries on regular basis (now with drones). We are hardly "at peace". Oh, and we are in "War on Terror" which is projected to end approximately never.
            Congress needs to man up and demand that the Administration has to get damn permission and issue official war declaration in order to bomb anyone. And de-fund any and all money that goes toward "unofficial" offensive military action.

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by ackthpt (218170)

              even when we are at complete peace.

              We must be bombing a dozen foreign countries on regular basis (now with drones). We are hardly "at peace". Oh, and we are in "War on Terror" which is projected to end approximately never.

              Congress needs to man up and demand that the Administration has to get damn permission and issue official war declaration in order to bomb anyone. And de-fund any and all money that goes toward "unofficial" offensive military action.

              Before 2001 we were at peace, with the only event since 1991 (Desert Storm) being a few cruise missles lobbed into Serbia to bring them to heel. Yet our military spending, despite cuts and closures, still ranked high while the Pentagon found all manner of toys in its version of the Sears & Roebucks Catalog that it just couldn't live without. Even when we're not at war, we're preparing for total war.

              • even when we are at complete peace.

                We must be bombing a dozen foreign countries on regular basis (now with drones). We are hardly "at peace". Oh, and we are in "War on Terror" which is projected to end approximately never.

                Congress needs to man up and demand that the Administration has to get damn permission and issue official war declaration in order to bomb anyone. And de-fund any and all money that goes toward "unofficial" offensive military action.

                Before 2001 we were at peace, with the only event since 1991 (Desert Storm) being a few cruise missles lobbed into Serbia to bring them to heel. Yet our military spending, despite cuts and closures, still ranked high while the Pentagon found all manner of toys in its version of the Sears & Roebucks Catalog that it just couldn't live without. Even when we're not at war, we're preparing for total war.

                Also the cost of a bombing campaign like the one in Libya was "only" about $US1 billion for the US side of things.

                The DOD's annual budget for 2012 was $US683 billion.

              • by ukemike (956477)

                Before 2001 we were at peace, with the only event since 1991 (Desert Storm) being a few cruise missles lobbed into Serbia to bring them to heel.

                Seriously!?!? I agree with you that were we ever at peace we would continue to arm ourselves (we're a bit pathological that way), but to suggest we were at peace in the 1990s is one of the stupidest things I have heard in a long time (and this is a presidential campaign year!).

                During the 1990s the US:
                Bombed Iraq and patrolled the no-fly zone continuously,
                Lead the UN occupation of Somalia for two years,
                Lead a Naval Blockade of Serbia and Montenegro for 2 years,
                Patrolled a no fly zone over Bosnia f

              • by tsotha (720379)
                Military spending is about 5% of GDP, about half what it was at the end of the cold war. We're not broke because of the military. We're broke because of social spending, particularly Medicare.
          • by gatkinso (15975)

            Last I checked there was still a war on.

            While I served in Iraq and never have stepped foot in Afghanistan... I suspect those who have would take umbrage with your stated position.

          • To bad the current war on two fronts are not only unfunded with bonds earmarked for the war effort, but the republican president that started them gave a huge tax break to the wealthy at the same time. This set up the US government to have a huge spike in debt which has gotten us in this mess in the first place.
            • Also one has to wonder how enthusiastic people would have been for the war if in the lead up to it the US government were front loading some of the tax costs. If every time it came up, the future annual tax increases for "Iraq invasion" were mentioned.

              • How about a nice war tax. A simple, flat, per person amount for the previous years war costs. Heck, I'd even let them space each year out over 5-10 plus interest. Do that and I can assure you that the chicken hawks starting these wars would be a lot quieter.
                • Actually they wouldn't be - flat tax's are disproportionately regressive, and military-industrial complex has made out like bandits from the wars. Halliburton would get the army's of lobbyists in.

                  Although, you're right in the sense that the people we need to reach on these issues are not the upper 1%, but the masses of people who either don't care to vote against them or perversely keep voting for them. But I'd much rather target the people who tend to profit from the current wars in the only language they

                • by tsotha (720379)
                  Great idea. Then how about a Medicare tax that actually pays for Medicare as well? And a NASA tax? How about a farm subsidy tax?
            • by tsotha (720379)
              Two fronts? You realize the US military left Iraq in December of last year. So we have A-stand and... where?
              • Two fronts? You realize the US military left Iraq in December of last year. So we have A-stand and... where?

                You do realize that our military were in Iraq from March 2003 to December 2011, and cost the US $845 billion. This is not including what Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz estimates is $3 trillion for the true cost of the war which takes into account the interest paid on the debt to finance the Iraq war, health care costs for returning war veterans, and replacing/repairing the munitions used duri

                • by tsotha (720379)

                  My point was "current war on two fronts" is, you know, inaccurate because it's not current.

                  • And how does this pedantry affect the argument?
                    • by tsotha (720379)

                      You started out your comment by saying we're in "current war on two fronts". If I were being a pedant, I would have said even in, say, 2007 we were in two wars and not a war on two fronts. I could even have said we weren't in any wars but rather we're conducting two occupations.

                      But to answer your question, it affects the argument because it's a hell of a lot cheaper to maintain a few thousand contractors plus some trainers in Iraq than it is to conduct a war there, so you were exaggerating the cost by qu

              • by gl4ss (559668)

                actually you have 100 circulars fronts in Afghanistan.

                It's considered to be a kinda bad tactic traditionally, but whatever.

                • by tsotha (720379)
                  Because it's not a war in the traditional sense. It's an occupation, and that's how occupations work.
          • by ukemike (956477)

            even when we are at complete peace.

            We have never been at "complete peace." Certainly not since WW2. To state otherwise is to betray your completely inadequate history education. Sorry.
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_United_States_military_operations [wikipedia.org]

        • by hsmith (818216)
          Yes, we are all slaves to society. You have no right to your labor, only what the government lets you keep.
          • you can leave any time you want. Of course the kinds of places that would take a self-important whiner don't realy have the sort of society that you could sponge off of, so I guess you'll just have to sit there and have your temper tantrum.
          • by ukemike (956477)

            Yes, we are all slaves to society. You have no right to your labor, only what the government lets you keep.

            My employer keeps most of the value of my labor and distributes it to shareholders long before the government gets its cut. The healthcare industry also takes its cut before the government.

          • by tsotha (720379)
            You're trying to be facetious, but that's pretty much how it works now. Wasn't always that way, not even in my lifetime. But that's the way it is now.
        • by khallow (566160)

          Here is a clue: Tax dollars aren't yours. Ever. They are all ours, societies.

          Sure, I grant that my tax dollars are gone squandered on whatever fads we think we need. But I'll also strive to make sure as much of my pre-tax income (and everyone else's pre-tax income) doesn't fall into our incompetent, greedy hands.

      • by gatkinso (15975)

        Better idea: vote.

  • by stevenh2 (1853442) on Friday August 17, 2012 @04:36PM (#41029327)
    The interest of the general public could help keep funding. If people never heard of it, they will not notice or care.
    • by ackthpt (218170)

      The interest of the general public could help keep funding. If people never heard of it, they will not notice or care.

      I think that's one thing behind getting more pretty pictures out to the public as quick as they can. But we had a speaker at our astronomy club from the Little SDO and the advances in solar observing are startling (and quite likely of considerable value) and I don't think some people are as aware of these programs as I wish they were.

  • Dark ages (Score:2, Troll)

    by Hatta (162192)

    We are hurtling headlong towards another dark ages.

    • by arth1 (260657)

      We are hurtling headlong towards another dark ages.

      What do you mean, "towards"?
      With 80% of the population believing in miracles, it'll take a miracle to elevate ourselves out of the dark ages.

  • Well it does not make money or help the rich get richer, in fact it costs money. I say shut it down!
    Silly geeks with telescopes....
  • Does this have anything to do with the James Webb [wikipedia.org] being over budget.

    • by ackthpt (218170)

      Does this have anything to do with the James Webb [wikipedia.org] being over budget.

      It will quite possibly. Hubble Space Telescope (HST) has done a lot for NASA PR. Amazing stuff. But James Webb isn't going to be about pretty pictures, it's about seeking answers to questions, questions the HST can't answer and no ground-based scope can do, because deep space IR doesn't penetrate the atmosphere.

      When the USSR threw a silvery ball into orbit the US woke up, and answered a challenge issued by JFK. Now that China is making noise about landing on the Moon, people are 'Meh, who cares?' Time

      • by mc6809e (214243)

        When the USSR threw a silvery ball into orbit the US woke up, and answered a challenge issued by JFK. Now that China is making noise about landing on the Moon, people are 'Meh, who cares?' Times and attitudes have certainly changed. Not much national pride in scientific accomplishment.

        Remember that the Soviets at the beginning of WWII actually were aggressors that invaded Poland (and five other nations). It was obvious, then, that the Soviets weren't screwing around and were willing to use military power t

    • Re:Just wondering (Score:5, Informative)

      by hde226868 (906048) on Friday August 17, 2012 @06:46PM (#41031075) Homepage
      No, this has nothing to do with JWST being over budget. The review concerns the astronomy funding through the National Science Foundation, whose budget is independent of NASA's funding. NASA funds all of space based astronomy (including data analysis), while NSF funds ground based astronomy. NSF mainly funds the national optical astronomy observatory on Kitt Peak in Arizona and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, VA, with facilities in West Virginia and in New Mexico (plus some other states). In addition, NSF funds data analysis/theory grants. Overall, NSF's budget is much smaller than NASA's, but then, ground based hardware is much cheaper than space based. To put things in perspective: for about 50% of all university astronomers, NSF facilities are the only way to get optical observing time (the remainder of astronomers have access via privately funded telescopes, such as the Keck). The closures of the instruments proposed in the report to NSF essentially mean the US giving up its current leadership in large areas of radio astronomy, and significantly reducing access to medium sized facilities for optical astronomers, if the (realistic) flat budget for the astronomy program is realized.
      • Furthermore, the cuts proposed are to older telescopes that cost a tiny fraction of JWST's construction budget to keep running. Every generation of new telescopes costs about 5x the previous generation, since Big Science keeps needing bigger telescopes to reach new frontiers. I work in astronomy, and as far as I can tell, the staff to keep one modern telescope (the LBT) going is similar in size to the staff required to keep several older machines operating. Heck, one of the telescopes I work on (the Kitt Pe
  • As Mr. Buffet likes to lecture the rest of us about 'paying our fair share of taxes' and his feeling that he does not, how about stepping up to the plate and providing the funding for these projects as you clearly don't bother cutting the government a check for the shortfall you wish they would take (and that you can in fact send to them at anytime if you were inclined).

    While the above is meant to be some what tongue in cheek, the larger point is that there are lots of billionaires and multimillionares in t

  • The number of people on food stamps has more than doubled since 1990. I guess people on food stamps are more likely to keep incumbents in office than scientist so the money goes to them. http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/images/pubs-images/43xxx/SNAP_Infographic_4_18_2012.png [cbo.gov] Note we went from spending under 20 billion in 1995 to 70 billion in 2010. The shortfall mentioned in the article that is forcing the shutdowns is 75 million.
  • I am not an astronomer but there seems to be a number of new projects that have come on line that may make some facilities obsolete. The new projects have better resolution, precision, etc. Do we need all the installations that may be cut? Can they cut other installations that are not as useful? These are questions I am putting out there as I do not know the answers.

    • by belthize (990217)

      None of the new instruments can do what the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) and Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) can do. There's a continuum of frequency, sensitivity and resolution that can be examined and each instrument can sample a small fraction of it. The GBT is the largest single fully pointable dish and covers a few hundred MHz to 100Ghz, the VLBA is the longest baseline interferometer (other instruments can be cobbled together) and covers from 1 to 100GHz. The GBT is sometimes used in conjunction wit

      • by jklovanc (1603149)

        It's too easy to point at discrete chunks of 10's of millions that affect an isolated group than tackle the billions that affect everyone.

        In an election year the math is pretty easy. Would one rather do a funding cut that may lose a few thousand votes or another that may lose a few million votes? In most people's lives a telescope is unimportant but health care is very important.

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