Congressional letter asks NASA to rescind Chandra cuts

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun14,2024

WASHINGTON — Nine members of Congress have asked NASA to reconsider significant changes to operations of the Chandra X-Ray Observatory linked to proposed cuts in the space telescope’s budget.

In the June 6 letter to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, the nine members, all Democrats and most from Massachusetts, where Chandra’s operations center is located, expressed their opposition to NASA’s plans in its fiscal year 2025 budget proposal to slash funding for the 25-year-old telescope, a move that scientists said could effectively cancel the mission.

“If implemented, these cuts would result in a significantly reduced FY25 science mission and initiate a closeout process in FY26,” the letter stated. “The justification for these cuts cites rising mission costs and inefficiencies. But Chandra’s operational efficiency remains near optimal, its costs stable, and its scientific returns per taxpayer dollar exceptionally high.”

The letter went on that a “premature termination” of Chandra would have major impacts on the X-ray astrophysics community, “potentially driving talent to other countries.”

The members called on NASA to maintain full funding for Chandra — $68.7 million, what the agency requested for the telescope in 2024 — “and to halt plans for significant reductions in FY25 until Congress determines Chandra’s appropriations.” Neither the House nor the Senate have formally introduced spending bills for fiscal year 2025 that include NASA, although the commerce, justice and science (CJS) appropriations subcommittee in the House is scheduled to mark up its bill, which funds NASA, in late June.

NASA’s proposed 40% cut in Chandra’s budget has received little public attention in hearings in the House and Senate about the budget request. An exception is an April 17 hearing by the House CJS appropriations subcommittee, where Rep. Joe Morelle (D-N.Y.) asked Nelson to reconsider the proposed cut.

“We had to make hard choices,” Nelson responded, referring to the overall fiscal constraints the agency faced. “Chandra has been the mission that has given us so many gifts, but it’s been there for 25 years, and it’s time for new missions.”

The letter comes as NASA is concluding a review it announced in March to find ways to reduce the costs of operating both Chandra and the Hubble Space Telescope. Speaking at a town hall session of the 244th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society June 10, Mark Clampin, director of NASA’s astrophysics division, said he expected to soon receive the final report from a committee called the Operations Paradigm Change Review.

“We asked them to look at how we could reduce the cost of operations but also continue to do the best science with these capabilities going forward,” he said of the review. NASA would make an announcement “in due course” of any changes to the operations of the two space telescopes, he said, a process that will include a town hall to discuss with scientists the impacts of those changes.

The review, he acknowledged, included the options of ending operations of Chandra and Hubble, but said that was not a preferred outcome. “We don’t want to stop using Hubble and we don’t want to stop using Chandra. We want to find a cheaper way to do it,” he said. “But, we wanted to make sure that they were looking at all the options that were possible.”

The letter was signed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Reps. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Lori Trahan (D-Mass.), Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.), Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), and Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.)

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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