NRAO hosts second GBT funding town hall
Green Bank, W.Va. –
West Virginia Congressman Nick Rahall says a National Science Foundation committee recommendation to de-fund the Green Bank Telescope doesn’t make sense.
“But it doesn’t make any sense to me that we have close to $100 million of federal dollars already invested here – to see that go down the drain,” he said. “It doesn’t make much economic sense in these times of tight budgets.”
Rahall was speaking at a town hall at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory on Sunday afternoon. An NSF planning committee recommended de-funding the GBT – the largest steerable telescope in the world – in order to fund new facilities in South America. The congressman joined senators Manchin and Rockefeller in a joint letter to NSF Director Subra Suresh, requesting a detailed explanation of the NSF’s decision making process regarding the GBT.
Rahall says the three legislators plan to meet with Suresh.
“Hopefuly, we will have a meeting in the not-too-distant future with the director of the National Science Foundation, in order to sit down and discuss, face-to-face, just what the issues are and how we can go forward in a more positive direction.”
“So, it does seem really ridiculous – this particular recommendation.”
Manchin spokesperson Peggy Hawse says Congress did not reduce NSF funding.
“Funding for the National Science Foundation has actually increased or remained steady throughout the year,” she said. “So, the question isn’t Congress funding the NSF. The decision was made in the executive branch of NSF, regarding the GBT.”
Dr. Bob Jones, Dean of the WVU College of Arts and Sciences, talks about the university’s investment in Green Bank.
“We’ve invested four faculty positions and the money that goes behind them,” he said. “And I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation today. That’s about 10 to 15 million dollars of investment that our institution, on behalf of West Virginia, has put to match up with this. Now – is that a good investment? Yes.
“We’re going to invest more. Right now, we’re searching for two new faculty members and we’re growing into the engineering field, outside of just the physics, and we’re hoping that we’ll grow into mathematics. And so, WVU already has a lot of skin in this game. And even with the softness with the federal government’s funding and questions that are arising, we are very confident in the importance of this and we’re putting more skin in the game.
“West Virginia University is a solid and complete and strong partner in however this venture moves forward.”
Dr. Ethan Shreier, president of Associated Universities, Inc., says the U.S. risks losing its leadership in radio astronomy.
“Radio astronomy is one of the few fields in astronomy where the U.S. is still the leading country in that field,” he said. “We have the best radio astronomy facilities in the world. Why are we giving up our leadership role?
“Research is really an international endeavor. However, there are so many benefits that come from having these world-leading facilities – in education, in training new students – that there’s no reason we should be giving up something we have now.”
NRAO management issued a response to the NSF recommendation Monday morning. The response states: “If implemented by the NSF, these recommendations would leave the U.S. astronomy research community in a substantially weakened position. In our opinion, U.S. leadership in radioastronomy would diminish, critical scientific capabilities that cannot be replaced with other open-access facilities in the U.S. or elsewhere would be surrendered, an there would be a reduction of the university community’s ability to train outstanding young scientists and engineers.
A link to the response document and a petition to maintain funding for the GBT can be found on the AMR website at alleghenymountainradio.org.