Lawmakers Duke It Out with NASA Over Telescope
Posted at 3:25 p.m. on June 6
When it comes to the science of telescopes, lawmakers seem to think they know better than NASA.
NASA’s budget request for this coming fiscal year proposes to mothball an airborne telescope, known as SOFIA. Basically, the agency thinks the money spent on the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy could be better used elsewhere. It’s the second-most-expensive thing in NASA’s Astrophysics Division, but the money could have a “larger impact supporting other science missions.”
Lawmakers in both chambers say NASA has got it all wrong, at least when it comes to aerial infrared telescopes. The House and Senate committees that pay the space agency’s bills have both proposed to keep the project up and running.
Yesterday, the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is run by Democrats, approved a bill that would include money for NASA and in the committee report accompanying the bill wrote:
The Committee disagrees with NASA’s effort to terminate the SOFIA mission and believes that such decisions for science missions should be made only after a senior review that evaluates the relative scientific benefit and return from continued investment.
Committee reports from the spending panel provide details and guidance in addition to the bill itself.
Similarly, the House spending panel, which is controlled by Republicans, also proposes to keep funding the project, saying in its committee report:
The Committee does not accept NASA’s request to terminate support for the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a project that is currently producing good science and has not been proposed for termination by NASA’s internal or external scientific review boards.
Last week, the House passed a spending bill that would include funding for NASA for the upcoming fiscal year.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told lawmakers in April that the final decision to ground SOFIA hadn’t been made but that that was the proposal. With Democrats and Republicans in agreement to overrule his wishes, it’s a good bet his agency is going to end up keeping their expensive telescope.