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Mars Society Launches “Three Percent for the Future” Campaign to Save Mars Exploration

posted Sep 4, 2012, 2:52 PM by M Stoltz   [ updated Sep 4, 2012, 7:10 PM ]

America is rightly thrilled by the recent success of the Curiosity landing.  Yet even as the administration is taking a bow for this great achievement, they are moving to kill the program that created it.

The figures speak for themselves.  This year’s NASA Mars exploration budget is $587 million.  The administration is proposing to cut that to $360.8 million in fiscal year 2013, $227.7 million in 2014 and $188.7 million in 2015, a level that would effectively put the nation out of the Mars exploration business.

These cuts need to be reversed.  NASA’s budget is the responsibility of Congress.  If America is to continue to be a nation of explorers and pioneers, the people’s representatives must take this matter in hand.

The Mars Society is therefore calling upon all of its chapters and members, as well as the general public to arrange meetings with their senators and representatives within driving range of their locale, to explain to them the situation and call upon them to act.

Our demand is simple and justifiable: That NASA’s robotic Mars exploration program should be placed on a solid financial footing of no less than three percent of the space agency’s overall budget.

Here are some of the primary talking points that should be conveyed:

  • Given the number of recent successful missions to the Red Planet (Phoenix Lander, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity), Mars exploration has earned the right to its budget.  NASA’s best program should not be killed, but, if anything, expanded.  Success should be rewarded, not punished.
  • NASA’s current budget is $17.6 billion, virtually the same as it was in FY 2008.  The rest of the federal budget has increased by 40% since 2008.  The space program is not responsible for causing the federal budget crisis, but rather it has set an example that, if followed by other departments, would have prevented the current fiscal blowout.  Those who wish to address the fiscal crisis need to patch the leak where the hole is, not where it isn’t.
  • NASA’s long-term goal is and should be the human exploration of Mars.  It is totally inconsistent with that goal to gut the robotic Mars exploration program.
  • Given that NASA’s stated goal is to explore Mars, spending a minimum of three percent of its budget to actually do so is entirely appropriate.
  • Three percent of $17.6 billion is $528 million.  That is a minimum reasonable healthy budget for NASA’s Mars exploration effort.  It would still represent a 10 percent cut from this year’s allocation, a sacrifice that would certainly be more than the Mars program’s fair share of any pain that overall federal fiscal disciple may require.
  • In 2008, NASA’s budget was the same as it is today, but also included a $5 billion Shuttle program that is now gone, yet was still able to find $600 million to fund the Mars program.  That is why we have the Curiosity mission to be proud of today.  If NASA could afford Mars exploration then, it can clearly afford it now.
  • At a time when U.S. scientific leadership is in doubt, the last thing we should be doing is killing a program, which, more than any other, dramatically demonstrates America’s technological excellence to the entire world.
  • At a time when America needs to inspire a new generation of youth to enter science and engineering, the last thing we should be doing is eliminating a program, which, more than any other, sets science forth before the eyes of young people everywhere as the great adventure of our time.
  • Three percent for the future is not too much to ask!

Mars Society members and others acting alone can always convey these points in letters to their representatives, senators and to the White House.  However, in-person meetings with members of Congress or their staff is the most effective way to get the message across.  

Mars Society chapters should designate members to contact each local congressional or senatorial office and request meetings.  Now that Congress has recessed

for the fall campaign, representatives and senators will be frequently in their districts.  If you are persistent and polite, you will generally be able to obtain a meeting with a congressman and at least a staff member to a senator.

If you cannot arrange a sit-down meeting, look at the congressman’s or senator’s posted campaign schedule and seek opportunities where they present themselves at public events where it might be possible to obtain a few words with them on the side.  Frequently, brief encounters at such events can lead to invitations to meet at greater length afterwards.  

Remember, be polite and friendly.  You are not there to picket, but to persuade.  Mars exploration is an issue where very few politicians have a previous commitment to a hostile position, so they have every reason to give us what we want if you can present it in a clear and reasonable manner.

Whenever a meeting with a government representative takes place, one of the participating chapter members should take notes and later provide our national office with a summary of the meeting.  Updates will be provided to all participating chapters as the campaign moves forward.  Also questions regarding the campaign can be directed to our national office.

With the upcoming election making public sentiment a matter of concern to the political class, and the success of Curiosity making clear the absurdity of quitting Mars exploration, now is the time to strike.

Three percent for Mars.  Three percent for the future.

This is a battle we can and must win!  Let’s roll!

[Images: NASA/JPL]

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