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Fri, Mar 22, 2024

SaveChandra Group Pushes for Congressional Salvation

X-Ray Telescope Slated for Wind-Down in FY25 Budget

"A Legendary Great Observatory is Proposed for Cancellation in the FY25 President's Budget Request. It's Not Too Late" reads the banner on the savechandra website.

The group is angling to rescue a now-unfunded NASA program that's been left in the lurch with the most recent NASA budget. Chandra was launched in 1999 aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia, taking up its place as the 3rd of NASA's "Great Observatories". It's much like the Hubble Space Telescope, but instead of 'seeing' in the visual spectrum of the human eye, it sees in the X-ray band. That allowed it to spot a plethora of beautiful vistas and throughout the cosmos. In early March, however, NASA proposed a premature cancellation to the program, citing immense budgetary pressures elsewhere. Sadly, a 20-something year-old program is one of the earlier ones to go, when so many others are in development or too early in their spacefaring careers to be ended. But Chandra, lacking the notoriety of Hubble, or the modernity of its youngest sibling, the James Webb Space Telescope, is an understandable target for slashing.

Overall, the 2025 fiscal year budget is down a full 2% from the FY24 request, due to a bill capping non-defense discretionary spending, the "Debt Ceiling agreement of 2023". That carves out almost $1 billion from the Science Mission Directorate. In October 2024, the first step in the cost reduction plan will begin, laying off half of the Observatory's staff. That alone would likely be harsh enough to slow operations to a halt. Past that, additional cuts in FY2026 would carve it away even more, though that step sounds more nebulous at the moment - in all likelihood anyone who could escape the layoffs in 2025 would already be bobbing off to the horizon in some career lifeboat. The cuts are disappointing to those in the space fandom, however, since Chandra has at least 10 years left in its useful lifespan - and likely far more. 

The group notes that 18% of the Chandra operations center staff is made up of US Army veterans, with an even larger talent pool across the USA. The telescope is the crown jewel of US X-ray tech, giving a high-quality, taxpayer-funded booster to careers throughout an industry that is prohibitively expensive for private sector business. More than 5,000 "Principal Investigators" have worked with Chandra data, making the NASA program a surprisingly consistent publisher. If the program begins to wind down to the point of being mothballed, that expertise will wander off to greener pastures - probably to never return.

As a part of their push to save the Chandra Observatory, the group offers a nifty little guide to stay on-message while contacting congressional figureheads. 



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