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“NASA is finding itself in the position of being asked to do more than it can with the available funding,” says Harvey Tananbaum, director of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Chandra X-Ray Center and also a member of the Space Studies Board. And even if the House and Senate end up agreeing to put back some of the funding that was to be cut from science, “sometimes the wrong things get put in,” Tananbaum says, meaning not the priorities determined by scientific review panels. Many students are leaving space sciences for other fields already, he says. “It’s not the death of the field. But it is disruptive, it’s inefficient.”

Berrien Moore, director of the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space at the University of New Hampshire, says the NASA cuts, including the drastic scaling back of an environmental and climate-monitoring satellite program, “is a debacle…The shuttle and the [space] station are killing the budget for science.”

Although the International Space Station remains a budgetary priority, some scientists feel that its usefulness for carrying out scientific research has already been diminished, by, for example, the cancellation of a large centrifuge seen as essential for biological research.

That cancellation, says Keith Cowing of the watchdog website NASA Watch, will “set back the ability” to develop ways to prevent the loss of muscle and bone by astronauts in prolonged weightlessness. And yet, he says, President Bush’s exploration initiative is supposed to be leading toward trips to “Mars and beyond,” where such measures will be essential.

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