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Astronomy Dept. Discusses Grants


The Astronomy Department receives less than six per cent of its Federal research funds from the Department of Defense, according to figures presented at an open meeting of astronomy students and instructors by Harvard Observatory Director Lee Goldberg '34, Higgins Professor of Astronomy.

Goldberg's summary of his department's working budget indicated that over 80 per cent of the astronomy funds come from government grants. Most of the grants, however, come out of civilian agencies. The most important source for research money is the National Space and Aeronautics Agency (NASA), which provided nearly 70 per cent of the total Federal funds during fiscal 1969.

But it was the much smaller defense funded portion of the budget which pro-yoked the most discussion among the some 75 people present at the meeting. Several urged that the department move towards reducing the defense contracts.

The defense funds, which total $255.000, are used by the Astronomy Department for theoretical research projects having little bearing on actual military capability.

One three-year Air Force grant of $160.000 presently supports research on the radio frequency spectrum of the sun. Goldberg said, however, that the Defense Department authorized the funding merely because "the sun has an affect on communications."

Richard A. McCray, assistant professor of Astronomy, opposed the defense contracts not because they provide useful research to the military, but because their existence indicates a tacit support of the military establishment, he said.

"When (scientist) go to the Department of Defense for funding." McCray said, "it doesn't do the cause any good to say they don't like what the defense establishment is up to."

But what one research fellow termed "the silent majority supporting the Observatory Director" clearly rejected any move to cut off defense funds. Goldberg said that, as an individual, he would rather see basic research funded by civilian agencies. But he does not want to see a cut in the defense money and the losses in basic astronomy research which would result, he indicated.

Goldberg and many of those present concluded that the main problem which their department faces is what they see as an arbitrary system of allocating federal funds for science.

Stressing the need for outside political pressure for change in this area, one speaker said that "the money could be cut off any day and our discussion here would be totally irrelevant."

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