Planetary scientists around the U.S. are planning "bake sales"… (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los…)
Bake sales at high schools to raise money for trips to Washington, D.C., football uniforms, art supplies and the like are commonplace in these tough budgetary times.
But a bake sale for NASA planetary science?
On Saturday, scientists from Caltech and UCLA will be out in force at La Canada High School, with chocolate chip cookies and brownies on hand, as part of a nationwide Planetary Bake Sale that is intended to raise awareness of proposed cuts to the NASA science budget.
Their primary concern? The president’s recommendation to cut about $300 million, or 21%, of the space agency’s planetary science budget for 2013.
“Planetary science is taking the brunt of cuts to NASA in this budget request,” said Jean-Pierre Williams, a researcher at UCLA’s department of sarth and space sciences and spokesman for the Los Angeles-area bake sale.
Future missions to bring samples back to Earth from Mars and to explore Jupiter’s moon Europa probably would be killed if the cuts remain in the budget, Williams said — and outside research institutions would suffer, as well.
“This does have implications for universities,” he said. “My research is completely funded by NASA. I can’t continue doing my work if the budget falls too far. We’ll have to abandon it.
“It’s not just affecting NASA,” he continued. “It’s affecting our educational system, our pipeline of future engineers.”
The bake sale will take place on the same day as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's yearly open house, which is expected to bring tens of thousands of people to the area, Williams said. He and his fellow researchers will hand out flyers and urge visitors to ask their representatives in Congress to scale back the cuts before proposals are reconciled and the budget is scheduled to go into effect, in October.
The idea is to get people the information about what’s happening, Williams said, adding: “Their opinion does matter. If enough people raise their voices, Congress will pay attention.”
He said that, already, discussions with Rep. Adam Schiff (D- Burbank) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) had resulted in proposals to restore of part of the funds.
“The House made it clear that the best course for NASA is to have a more balanced portfolio -- to not expect planetary science to take the full burden of cuts,” he said.
Click here for more information about the Planetary Bake Sale in Los Angeles.