Milky Way Cupcakes: A Savior for NASA's Non-manned Missions?

Milky Way Cupcakes: A Savior for NASA’s Non-manned Missions?

Can Milky Way cupcakes, Saturn cake and chocolate chip Opportunity cookies prevent potentially deep cuts to NASA’s space exploration budget?

With a possible $300 million cut to planetary science projects donating a dollar for a cookie might have the impact of a pebble striking Jupiter. But University of Central Florida students and professors who are holding the bake sale and car wash on Saturday – and nearly 20 groups of their peers throughout the country who organized similar events — hope to send a clear message to Congress.

The UCF group’s Planetary Exploration Car Wash and Bake Sale will run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, June 9, at the Chevron adjacent to campus, 1640 E. McCulloch Road. Donations will cover the costs of the event and help the group fund future education outreach efforts.

Students, professors and scientists around the nation say the cuts proposed by the Obama administration will cripple the country’s future in space exploration by eliminating almost all non-manned planetary space missions through the next two decades. Those missions, which send unmanned robots or probes to space, have produced captivating discoveries this decade, including the first evidence of water on the moon and the first glimpse of the Mars surface. In a few years, they’re expected to offer the first real look at Pluto and beyond.

The proposed budget calls for a reduction of about $300 million in the area of planetary science, with no cuts to earth sciences, heliophysics and astrophysics area.

“We’re not asking for more of the pie, we’re asking for less of a bite out of the pie,” said Laura Seward, a graduate research assistant and a doctoral candidate at UCF who organized the event. “A strong robotic planetary exploration program is essential for a strong human planetary exploration program.”

The nationwide event was organized by the Southwest Research Institute, an independent, nonprofit applied research and development organization.

“This is being done to attract media attention and to help focus Congress on repairing the damage of the deep cuts planned to NASA’s planetary science program,” said Alan Stern, the institute’s associate vice president for research and development. “It’s important these cuts be repaired to maintain U.S. leadership in this area of science, to prevent mission cuts, and to prevent student and research job losses.”

The nation is enjoying a Golden Age of non-manned space missions that resulted in incredible results thanks to investments made years ago, Seward said. They include:

  • The Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity were planned to last 90 days. Both outlived that goal, and Opportunity is still going after eight years.
  • The missions LCROSS and LRO discovered the signatures of water on the moon
  • Cassini is helping to unlock the mystery around Saturn’s rings
  • The Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity, the largest Mars probe to date, will land in August.

The car wash groups have the full support of the Division of Planetary Sciences, a division within the American Astronomical Society (AAS) devoted to solar system research. It’s the largest organization on the planet dedicated to understanding how the solar system works and what that means for the Earth’s future.

“Planetary science delivers great results for the United States,” said Daniel Britt, chair of the Division of Planetary Sciences and a professor at UCF. “This is one major way that we maintain our world-wide technological leadership.”

For more information, contact Tracy Becker at tbecker@knights.ucf.edu .