Budget Cuts Trigger NASA Resignations

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Three top NASA science advisers have resigned. Two were asked to step down by NASA's administrator. All three had concerns that the space agency's science programs were losing out in the push to return humans to the moon, with large cuts to earth science and astronomy programs.



I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Three top NASA science advisors resigned this week, two were asked to step down by NASA's administrator. All three had concerns that the space agency science programs were losing out in the push to return humans to the moon.

NPR's David Kestenbaum reports.


NASA'S advisory council has sometimes criticized the agency. One recent report wrote of deep frustration about large cuts to earth science funding. Another worried about delays and cuts to astronomy programs.

Against that backdrop, council member Eugene Levy got a phone call. Levy is also provost of Rice University.

Mr. EUGENE LEVY (Rice University): On Monday a group of us was contacted and asked to our resign positions. The unifying theme was that we were among those most vocal, at least, about our concerns about the balance in the program between science and other aspects of NASA's agenda.

KESTENBAUM: Levy agreed to resign. So did Wes Huntress, who runs the Carnegie Institutions Geo Physical Laboratory. Charles Kennedy, director of Scripps Institute of Oceanography resigned, though NASA says he was not asked to. He declined to be interviewed.

The three departures are unfortunate that's the view of Claude Canizares, vice president of research at MIT, who served on the council for ten years.

Mr. CLAUDE CANIZARES (Massachusetts Institute of Technology): These are excellent scientists, and two of them actually served as associate administrators within NASA. I think it's a shame not to have strongly opinionated but very smart people giving advice.

KESTENBAUM: Another scientist worried that NASA would replace critics on the council with cheerleaders. But NASA's administrator Michael Griffin says he hears criticism all the time.

Mr. MICHAEL GRIFFIN (NASA): I get an enormous amount of outside advice and actually, I listen to it. So I don't feel that in any way I'm closing off myself to advice or even advice that conflicts with what I'm trying to do.

KESTENBAUM: Griffin says that the chairman of the council a former Apollo astronaut told him that the two advisors were not working out, after which he asked them resign. Griffin says the advisory council is not supposed to challenge decisions that have already been made.

Mr. GRIFFIN: We here in this administration are changing NASA's direction. NASA has for too long existed without an overarching goal, in particular for its human space flight program. The president has provided that goal. We will return to the moon with people. We will prepare for a long term presence there. We will go to Mars.

KESTENBAUM: Griffin says it's no secret not everyone agrees with those goals.

David Kestenbaum, NPR News.

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