Saturday, September 15, 2007

The view from Washington

The Washington Post offered a political preview of last week's Frontiers of Astronomy conference:

Astronomers from around the country are meeting in Washington this week to highlight the many scientific mysteries that Arecibo is in a unique position to plumb, but the effort may be "too little, too late," said Daniel Altschuler, a professor of physics at the University of Puerto Rico who was Arecibo's director for 12 years.

"I don't see any effective move toward saving Arecibo," said Altschuler.

While the VLBA, also targeted for cuts, has New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici in its corner, Arecibo doesn't have a hometown Congressional ally: Puerto Rico has no voting representatives in Congress.

Louis D. Friedman, executive director of the Planetary Society, is hoping someone on Capitol Hill will offer up a budget earmark:

"Earmarks get a bad rap, but this is a case when Congress should step up to prevent Arecibo's demise."

In a strange-bedfellows turn, the White House may be critical to an Arecibo reprieve: If the NSF budget continues to grow as outlined in the President's American Competitiveness Initiative goals, the budget crunch that got everyone scrimping in the first place will no longer be an issue.

Arecibo also has a friend in California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who has been preaching the doomsday-asteroid gospel for years and would push for NASA to take over the funding of Arecibo's radar system (just don't ask what NASA would cut to do it).

Otherwise, there's always corporate sponsorship:

"Imagine the word 'Google' painted across that 19-acre dish," [Arecibo Director Robert] Kerr said. "What do you think that would be worth?"

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