What NASA Really Does

Heidi B. Hammel joined The Planetary Society's Board of Directors in 2005.  A Senior Research Scientist with the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, Hammel herself lives in Ridgefield, Connecticut.

She received her undergraduate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1982 and her Ph.D. in physics and astronomy from the University of Hawaii in 1988.  After a post-doctoral position at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Pasadena, California), Hammel returned to MIT, where she spent nearly nine years as a Principal Research Scientist in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences.

Hammel primarily studies outer planets and their satellites, with a focus on observational techniques.  Hammel received the  2002 American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences (AAS/DPS) Sagan Medal for outstanding communication by an active planetary scientist to the general public .

  • Transcript


Question: How is NASA’s shrinking budget affecting your work?


Heidi Hammel: Well, NASA’s budget has not really been declining. It’s been stable, and it’s been a very, very tiny but, you know, stable fraction of our government’s budget. I think that there’s a lot we can do with the NASA funding now. Certainly it could be more if we had more, but we’ve got a lot of things going on in our country. I don’t think I could advocate for increasing NASA’s budget by a factor of two or ten, because I want us to have good roads in our country. I want us to have good education in our country. And NASA’s budget is part of a discretionary budget, and we can’t make that bigger without taking away other things. And so I try to be pragmatic about that and, you know, we just have to do with what we’ve got. What that does mean is that those of us who are space scientists need to be very realistic about what our expectations are. We need to be very thoughtful about how we propose to spend the money that NASA does have for space exploration. And we need to be clear that there’s the human spaceflight part of NASA, and there’s the science space part of NASA, and there’s also aeronautics. Those are all very different things that NASA does. The space-science part of NASA, the part that’s launched the Hubble Space Telescope, and put the rovers on Mars, that’s about one-third of what NASA does. And it’s been a really productive one-third of what NASA does. Should it be a bigger part? Should it be half? I don’t know. Maybe the third is the right amount. But we need to be very thoughtful about what we propose to do and recognize we’ve got limited resources. We can’t do everything, so be careful.