Concern Voiced Over New Space Plan
Policy Stresses Inexpensive, Practical Research
The Carter Administration's policy towards future space exploration, outlined in a statement released earlier this month, raises uncertain prospects for some proposed astronomy research projects at Harvard and at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
According to an October 11 White House statement, relatively inexpensive research likely to produce practical benefits will receive "adequate" funding, while manned exploration, with the exception of the Space Shuttle program, will be eliminated. Future space activities, the statement says, "will reflect a balanced strategy of applications, science and technology development."
Allastair G.W. Cameron, chairman of the Astronomy department, said yesterday he thought the new policy "would not have a particularly negative effect on Harvard research programs "although he had hoped for more funding.
Astronomers at Harvard will have to continue doing "the best they can within a limited budget," Cameron added.
George B. Field, Paine Professor of Practical Astronomy and director of the Center for Astrophysics, yesterday called President Carter's space policy "mildly positive," but said he was disappointed with the Administration's overall science budget for fiscal 1979.
Field said the Administration's funding for the space sciences "didn't live up to our expectations...it's not as positive as we had hoped."
Some potentially important benefits of Spacelab, an orbiting research laboratory that would be carried aloft by the Space Shuttle, may be lost unless increased appropriations are forthcoming. Based on appropriations are forthcoming. Based on President Carter's previous statements, Field said, "We expected Spacelab to get a major infusion of funding...now we're told it's not possible.
"It doesn't make sense not to spend the small amounts necessary to make a project useful," Field said. He said he was also concerned about funds for the Advanced X-Ray Astrophysical Facility (AXAF), currently in the design stage, a project which has not yet come up for Congressional approval.
James M. Anderson, a teaching fellow in biology said yesterday the new policy will have a mixed impact on atmospheric research, his specialty. Funds for experiments investigating the Earth's atmosphere would probably be boosted, he said, while some programs designed to study the atmospheres of other planets, particularly Venus, Mars and Jupiter, are now in "greater jeopardy."
Anderson added that he disagrees with plans to cut back on planetary work because there is a "very strong link" between it and our understanding of the Earth's atmosphere.
Congressional committees eliminated the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), a program the Carter Administration supported. Eric J. Chaisson, assistant professor of Astronomy, had hoped that his $147,000 four-year proposal, "An Operational, Dedicated SETI Program," would pass as part of SETI's $2 million budget.
If Congress had approved the program, undergraduate volunteers would have assisted Chaisson in using the presently silent 26-meter Agassiz Radio Telescope, located in Harvard, Mass., to listen in on 350 stars considered most likely to support extra-terrestrial civilizations.
"It's kinda depressing to see your own little program die," Chaisson said yesterday