Two perspectives on continuation of the space program
Following is an open letter originally sent to the White House. Mr. Edwin Meese Special Counselor to the President The White House Washington, D.C. 20500 Dear Mr. Meese:
We are writing out of deep concern for the future of this nation's commitment to the exploration of the solar system - an extraordinary technological triumph in which American spacecraft have visited, for the first time in human history, 40 new worlds. Our two organizations represent a part of the professional and public constituency of planetary exploration: approximately 1,000 scientists engaged in planetary research, and 100,000 other citizens who have joined The Planetary Society during the past year because of their commitment to planetary exploration. The Planetary Society is, in fact, the fastest growing membership organization of any sort in America over the past decade.
We recognize the efforts being made to reduce unnecessary federal spending. But we also recognize that there are some activities that can only be supported by the Federal government, and that are critical to our national and global future. Much of basic scientific research represents just such a critical area. Planetary exploration is on the leading edge of our efforts to advance high technology and to increase our understanding of the Earth and its place in the universe. In two decades, we have developed a unique capability to send sophisticated robot vehicles to the farthest reaches of the solar system. The pioneering accomplishments of the Vikings and Voyagers and their predecessors have captured the interest and imagination, not only of millions of Americans, but of multitudes around the world. Even those dubious about the policies of the United States have acknowledged the benign influence and technical leadership represented by this endeavor. It is hard to think of another federal program that has been so successful in accomplishing its goals, or so generally recognized as positive in its effects. It is an example of what we do best.
If we back off from the enterprise of the planets, we will be losing on many levels simultaneously. By examining other worlds - their weather, their climate, their geology, their organic chemistry, the possibility of life - we calibrate our own world. We learn better how to understand and improve the Earth. Planetary exploration is an activity involving high technology which has many important applications to the national and global economy - robotics and computer systems being two of many examples. It uses aerospace technology in an enterprise which is a credit to our nation, our species and our epoch. And planetary exploration is an adventure of historic proportions. A thousand years from now our age will be remembered because this was the moment when we first set sail for the planets.
In the decades of the 1960s and 1970s, dozens of American missions were launched to the Moon and the Planets. For the decade of the 1980s at most one such launch has been approved, and even it is in jeopardy. We write to ask your support to ensure the survival of planetary exploration in the United States. Survival truly is at stake, because once the engineering teams are dispersed, the scientists demoralized, and the facilities closed or redirected to other functions, it would take many years and a great deal of money to return us to our present capabilities. The minimum level of effort essential for such survival is to complete the Galileo orbiter and probe for launch to Jupiter in 1985, to approve at least one other new planetary mission for launch in this decade, and to maintain the base support for science and engineering necessary to revitalize the program when a stronger economy can support it.
We and millions of Americans will appreciate any help you give to the enterprise of the planets. Carl Sagan, President,The Planetary Society David Morrison, Chairman American Astronomical Society Division for Planetary Sciences