U science funding uncertain under Bush’s budget

The plan calls for increased funding for space expeditions to the moon and Mars.

Naomi Scott

University astronomy professor Robert Pepin said he has mixed feelings about how President George W. Bush’s budget proposal will affect space travel.

The proposal, which was submitted to Congress last week, calls for increased funding for research related to planned expeditions to the moon and Mars.

“It’s favorable in that it calls a lot of attention to space-exploration programs,” said Pepin, who served as science adviser for Apollo lunar missions 14 through 17.

However, Pepin said he thinks the proposal diverts too much funding to piloted space travel rather than robotic explorations.

Pepin is one of many University science advocates whose departments could be affected by the proposal, which calls for increased funding in some science programs and decreased funding for others.

Allen Goldman, head of the physics department in the Institute of Technology, said it is important to know Bush’s proposed budget is typically lower than what Congress approves.

“But we’re in a strange situation, because the federal deficit is very large this year,” he said.

Some astronomy department professors said they are upset because Bush proposed cuts for most of the federal funds directed toward physical sciences research.

Physics and astronomy professors Yuichi Kubota and Ronald Poling said they invested five years and a $150 million budget in federal funding into an experiment, which was zeroed out by Bush’s proposal.

“It’s hard to stomach,” Kubota said about the cut that affects his research.

Part of the experiment Kubota and Poling were working on, called “BteV,” was going to investigate why particles and antiparticles are unevenly distributed in the universe.

Any particle and its antiparticle have identical masses but opposite charges. For example, the antiparticle of an electron is a positron.

Mark Paller, Academic Health Center assistant vice president for research, said it’s too early to know what specific areas in the center will feel the burden of financial cuts.

The proposal included slight increases for the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. But the increase for the National Institutes of Health – 0.7 percent – falls short of the rate of inflation in biomedical research, which is approximately 3.2 percent.

Paller said of the difference between the inflation rate and Bush’s proposed increase, “It’s not gigantic, but it’s going in the wrong direction.”

He said that if the proposal passes as is, fewer grants in the Academic Health Center will be funded by the National Institutes of Health. The center currently receives $230 million of its $300 million research funding from the National Institutes of Health.

Besides space exploration, Bush is calling for increased funding for developing hydrogen-powered vehicles.

Chemical engineering professor Lanny Schmidt said hydrogen-powered cars are more efficient than those powered by gasoline and diesel because they use less ethanol.