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Volume 17, Number 13
March 26, 2023


New Horizons, a billion dollar highly successful asset in the Kuiper Belt, is continuing to do unique planetary science while its team is stretching to find another distant flyby target that could change our ideas about solar system formation. NASA wants to shut down these challenging planetary investigations and disband the team in order to save less than pennies on the dollar (not a recommendation of the Senior Review).

This is only one of a rapidly growing number of managerial missteps by the Biden administration in NASA's planetary program. This program is suffering cost overruns and schedule slips in initiatives and missions such as Mars Sample Return and Psyche, while covering its near term budget needs by cutting funding to and delaying (a "soft cancellation"?) projects that are on-schedule and on-budget such as the VERITAS mission to Venus and NEO Surveyor to find actual asteroid threats. Delays increase costs, compounding problems in the future. In addition, science funding for ongoing missions at Mars is being significantly reduced, again against the recommendations of the Senior Reviews for those missions. Rather than asking Congress for the funds it needs to run these projects effectively and efficiently, the Biden administration is engaging in a form of cannibalism in an effort to hide its mismanagement.

Congress needs to investigate these actions and provide the funding and direction this administration needs so the public can get the science return on their tax dollar investments in these missions instead of chaos. Congress needs to decide whether NASA is a science agency or a performing arts agency. NASA does not consider itself to be a science agency, and this may be part of the problem.

Mark V. Sykes

[Opinions expressed are those of the author and not the Planetary Science Institute]