It isn't just NASA that is feeling the squeeze when it comes to its budget. In the UK, the Particle Physics & Astronomy Research Council (PPARC - the main funding body for astronomy) are struggling to fund all the projects that UK particle physicists and astronomers are involved with. The latest news from PPARC Council explains that the result will be to pull out of some projects earlier than planned and not provide the levels of resources needed to properly exploit some experiments. What that means exactly, I'm not sure. It could mean that there will be a lack of Post-doctoral positions that are vital to the processing and analysis of data from existing and future UK projects. To fund projects and then not provide funding to fully utilise the data seems crazy to me. The harm it could have on physics and astronomy in the UK isn't lost on Council though:

Council also recognised that, while it has sought to protect the grants line as far as it could without unduly damaging investment in future opportunities which are equally crucial for the health of our science, the reduction in the volume of research supported through this route could, in the longer-term, seriously impact on the viability of some physics departments in the UK. Current estimates of the actual costs of implementing full economic cost indicate that the reduction may have to be more severe than planned.

To put the UK space science budget in perspective, PPARC's annual budget (2005) is about £325 million - £288 million of which comes from Parliament - or equivalent to about £5.40 per person, per year. For comparison, NASA's budget is around USD 16.2 thousand million or USD 54 per person (about £31). That is a factor of 5.7 more per person spent in the US compared to the UK! Of course this isn't a like-for-like comparison because NASA do more than just space science and astronomy. Nevertheless, astronomy also gets funding via the US National Science Foundation to an amount something of the order of USD 30 million. Considering the difference it is amazing that the UK contributes as much as it does.

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Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Wednesday 08th Mar 2006 (20:22 UTC) | Permalink
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