New Funding for Arecibo Observatory?

Arecibo ObservatoryBack in 2006, the future of the Arecibo Observatory started looking pretty bleak. During meetings by the Astronomical Sciences Division of the National Science Foundation, a committee recommended that the enormous radio telescope should be closed. Their justification for the recommendation was that the combination of several facilities would allow them (NSF) to continue existing studies.

Of course, that set off a lot of political hand wringing here and many local politicians decided to acknowledge that we even had a telescope. There begin assorted whining and crying for additional funding, and there was even some discussion that local legislators would propose a bill to provide the necessary funding necessary to keep the facility operational.

More Dependence on Federal Funding

Recently, the House Science and Technology Committee unanimously passed legislation to reauthorize National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), H.R. 6063, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2008. This bill includes a section directly addressing the future of the radio telescope:

Sec. 806. Arecibo Observatory.

Expresses Congress’ support for the use of the Arecibo Observatory for NASA-funded near-Earth object-related activities, and requires the Administrator to ensure the availability of the Arecibo Observatory’s planetary radar to support these activities until the National Academies review of NASA’s approach for the survey and deflection of near-Earth objects is completed.

This recommendation carries with it the realization of an additional $2 million in funding for the observatory starting with fiscal year 2009.

H.R. 6063, also authorizes appropriations for a wide variety of NASA’s activities – science, aeronautics, exploration, education, space operations, inspector general, and cross-agency support programs. In total the bill authorizes fiscal year 2009 funding for NASA of $20.21 billion.

Follow the Funding

While I'm ecstatic for this great news, I'm saddened by a larger truth that is right in front of our faces. It's like when your kids don't seem to notice that their bedroom (or the house) looks like pig sty. They casually step around the crap piled up on the floor, but never bend over and pick up anything.

How can we wonder why kids are losing interest in science? How can we wonder why our schools are losing their ability to produce world class scientists? How can we even ask these questions when the anticipated budget to continue the war in Iraq is $178 billion. What does that tell you about our priorities?

Even if you lumped in the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation with NASA, it wouldn't even come close to matching the money the Department of Defense receives. It's right there in front of us, folks. Yet, we remain ignorant and oblivious while we go to the mall, stare hypnotized at our televisions, and drink ourselves numb. What are you talking about Dad? I don't see any mess!