Status Report

Dear Colleague Letter to the Solar Physics Community regarding Solar Probe Cancellation

By SpaceRef Editor
March 5, 2001
Filed under ,

Dear Colleagues,

Many of us were alarmed last week at the sudden announcement that
the Solar Probe project might not be funded under the currently
blueprinted federal budget.

It would be a tragedy to lose the breakthrough “ground truth” science
that Probe’s combined in-situ and imaging experiments will create,
especially given that the mission is both feasible and within budget.
In fact, the “very large escalation in cost” cited within the president’s
blueprint is remarkable in that Probe’s cost has actually gone down
as the mission has matured!

Solar Probe merited very high priority in the recent S.E.C. roadmap
exercise: out of 16 future missions, Solar Probe was one of only six
missions mentioned in more than one of the Campaigns, with top
priority in the “Frontiers” campaign. The only potential missions
with broader impact are STEREO (being built) and the Solar Polar
Imager. [ref:]
Solar Probe was also ranked at the top of the prioritized list of
missions for heliospheric physics by SECAS.

Solar Probe has faced many obstacles, including the well-known
problems with nuclear power in space and with producing instruments
that are small enough and light enough to travel on Solar Probe’s
high-energy trajectory, yet still return breakthrough science. How
tragic that, just as developments in solar cell technology could
obviate the need for nuclear power and as miniaturization technology
has matured enough to make the mission feasible, politics within the
capital beltway endanger this important mission.

I urge everyone to write and/or call people both within NASA and
within our elected government to raise awareness of Solar Probe’s
importance to the community. Below I have attached a bulleted list of
“Solar Probe Facts” and the names some important people to contact.
Remember, when contacting public officials, a well thought out letter
(sent by FAX or US Mail, preferably both) is best. Form letters are
much less helpful (so I haven’t included one here), and email, while
more convenient, is also frequently less effective.

Now, before the federal budget is agreed upon, is the time to campaign
for this mission. If President Bush’s tax cut passes Congress this
week, then we will be playing a zero-sum game with the rest of the
federal agencies. Acting now, before the budget is fixed, will help
allocate needed resources to NASA as a whole.

A disclaimer: I am a co-investigator with an instrument proposal for the
Solar Probe project. Regardless of who is selected to build the
instruments or the spacecraft, *someone* should do it, for the good of
the field as a whole. I am writing this letter to the community in
the hope that we will all work together to make this mission happen.

Warm regards,

Craig DeForest


Solar Probe Facts

Solar Probe is:

  • An exciting mission to our nearest star: a spacecraft that will fly
    *through* the sun’s corona, both sampling the tenuous, ultrahot gases
    that cause geomagnetic activity at Earth and giving mankind our
    first look at the poles of our star;

  • A prominent part of NASA’s Sun-Earth connections roadmap, endorsed
    by the national and international scientific communities and given
    highest priority mission status by the appropriate steering committees;

  • Crucial to unlocking the mysteries of the solar corona, the most
    energetic material in our visible solar system;

  • A necessary step in learning to protect our infrastructure and
    military assets at Earth from solar activity;

  • The grandest adventure yet undertaken by NASA’s OSS, and an
    excellent tool for raising the public’s awareness of technology and
    physical science;

  • A technical challenge that develops critical national skills in
    miniaturization and optimization of robust, small, lightweight
    sensors and mechanisms;

  • A mature mission concept that has undergone years of design

  • Already announced and competed: instrument and spacecraft teams are
    ready to undertake the mission;

  • Feasible without nuclear power (which was baselined in the original
    mission plan);

  • Within budget;

  • Inexpensive; and

  • In jeopardy of cancellation under the current budget blueprint.

Cancelling Solar Probe would:

  • Not save much money;

  • Waste the tremendous capital investment that has already been put
    into mission design;

  • Prevent acquisition of critical science data;

  • Short-circuit the accepted project endorsement and selection process;

  • Damage NASA’s credibility in national and international scientific

  • Fly in the face of NASA’s own roadmap for solar system
    exploration; and

  • Set back development of strategically important, cutting-edge
    lightweight instrument technology.


Contact information:

Remember, we are raising awareness and expressing concern, *not*
sniping. In particular, our NASA representatives need ammunition and
support, not railing and anger. They want to see Probe fly, too, so
be sure to cc: them on anything you send out, and be sure to be
supportive of the OSS office and management, and positive about the
mission (not negative about the budget cuts)!

Ideally, you will send several copies of any letter of concern. They
should go to:

At least:

  • George Withbroe (science program director, NASA/SEC)

  • Edward Weiler (Associate Administrator, NASA)

  • President Bush


  • Christopher Bond (R-MO; chair, sen. app. subcomm., VA/HUD)

  • Barbara Mikulski (D-MD; ranking member, sen. app. subcomm., VA/HUD)

  • C.W. Young (R-FL; chair, house app comm.)

  • Your local representative (see below)

  • Your local senator (see below)

    If possible:

  • Any appropriations committee member from your state (see below).

    Remember, NASA is placed within the VA/HUD subcommittee of the senate and
    house appropriations committees. As of now, the House has not appointed
    subcommittee members, so the main membership is the only way to contact them.
    The Senate has not appointed a full subcommittee, so Senators Bond and
    Mikulski are the points of contact there.

    Here’s the contact info you’ve been waiting for:

    Dr. George Withbroe
    Science Program Director, SEC
    NASA Headquarters, Rm 5F88
    Washington, D.C. 20546-0001
    Phone: 202-358-2150
    FAX: 202-358-3987

    Dr. Edward Weiler
    Associate Administrator
    NASA Headquarters, Rm 5A11
    Washington, D.C. 20546-0001
    Phone: 202-458-1409
    FAX: 202-358-3092

    President George W. Bush
    The White House
    1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
    Washington, D.C. 20500
    FAX: 202-456-2461

    Sen. Christopher Bond
    Chair, VA/HUD Appropriations Subcommitee
    247 Russell Office Building
    Washington, D.C. 20510
    Phone: 202-224-5721

    Sen. Barbara Mikulski
    Suite 709, Hart Office Building
    Washington, D.C. 20510
    Phone: 202-224-4654

    Rep. C.W. Young
    2407 Rayburn Building
    Washington, D.C. 20515
    Phone: 202-225-5961

    Your senator and rep.:

    If you don’t know who they are, don’t worry — just visit these sites:

    Both of them contain directories by state and district.

    If you have time, briefly scan over the members of the House and Senate
    Appropriations Committees to see if you are a constituent of one of them.
    Those sites are:

  • SpaceRef staff editor.