The as-yet-unknown cost of President Bush's initiative to send humans
to the Moon and to Mars may delay or damage many of the space science
community's highest priority missions, according to a November 2004
report by the American Physical Society's Task Force on NASA Funding
for Astrophysics. The task force also argues that sending human missions
to the Moon and to Mars would add little to our understanding of the
The task force points out that the normal process for prioritizing
astronomy and astrophysics projects, with the involvement of the science
community, was bypassed in the development of the Moon-Mars initiative.
Additionally, it notes that "no budgetary mechanisms have been
established to limit the potential deleterious impact of the program
on other aspects of NASA's missions" or on other science agencies.
Already, in a September 2004 analysis (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2004/143.html),
the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the cost of the Moon-Mars
initiative could exceed current estimates by $30-61 billion in the next
15-20 years. The APS report projects that, if the costs grow by $61
billion and funding constraints force NASA to reprogram internal funds
to meet this cost growth, "46 percent of total Aeronautics and
Other Science funding...would disappear."
The task force's report buttresses a statement released by the APS
Executive Board in June 2004, which stated, in part, that "Launching
such a massive program without broad consultation and a clear idea of
its scope and budget may hurt rather than enhance...the scientific standing
of the U.S. and the training of its scientists and engineers."
The statement continues, "Before the United States commits to President
Bush's proposal, an exhaustive external review of the plans should be
carried out by the National Academy of Sciences and their likely budgetary
impact estimated by the Government Accountability Office (GAO)."
The task force warns that policymakers face a "major challenge"
in reprioritizing NASA programs to implement the Moon-Mars initiative
"without destroying the agency's balanced scientific program that
was carefully crafted with strong scientific community involvement."
The report's authors believe that the space science community, through
National Academy of Sciences decadal surveys, advisory committees, and
NASA's roadmap process, has established effective mechanisms for soliciting
input and achieving consensus from all segments of the community. This
priority-setting process was not utilized in development of the Moon-Mars
proposal. In fact, the report points out that the Administration's plans
for FY 2005 and beyond already call for delays and budget cuts to many
space science priorities. They could affect such projects as LISA, Constellation-X,
Einstein Probes, the Explorer program, Sun-Earth Connections and future
Solar-Terrestrial Probe missions. (In the FY 2005 omnibus appropriations
bill, funding for NASA's Science, Aeronautics and Exploration account
was reduced even more than the Administration's request; see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2004/150.html.)
In assessing the scientific value of the Moon-Mars initiative, the
task force acknowledges that human explorers have some advantages over
robotic missions, but finds the use of humans not justified on scientific
grounds: "The recent spectacular success of the Mars Rovers reminds
us that it is possible to address many important scientific questions
by robotic means. The limited autonomy possible with current technology
typically reduces the pace at which science is done.... But this is
an acceptable compromise given the very large difficulties and costs
of using people." The report adds, "Human exploration could
offer one real advantage: serendipity, the opportunity to notice and
respond immediately to the unexpected. In this regard, astronauts on
Mars might achieve greater scientific returns than robotic missions,
but at such a high cost and technical challenge that one could not expect
to justify their presence on scientific grounds alone." The task
force also cautions about contamination of the Mars surface by terrestrial
life forms, which would "compromise a prime target of the exploration
program, the search for life on another solar system body."
"Returning Americans to the Moon and landing on Mars would have
a powerful symbolic significance, but it would constitute only a small
step in the advancement of knowledge," the task force concludes,
"since much will already be known from exploration with the robotic
precursor probes that are necessary to guarantee the safety of any human
These considerations led the task force to propose three recommendations:
1. "NASA should continue to be guided by the recommendations
of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) decadal studies in formulating
its science programs."
2. "Before the United States commits to the Moon-Mars
proposal, a review of the initiative's science impact should be carried
out by the NAS."
3. "Before the United States commits to the Moon-Mars
proposal, the likely budgetary impact should be estimated by the Government