Britain Turns Its Back on Saturn

NASA isn't the only space agency cutting back: British scientists who have made stunning discoveries about Saturn and its moons will have to abandon their research because of budget cuts.

While the Cassini mission to Saturn has been so successful that NASA extended it this week by seven years, British participation is to end because a government funding agency has withdrawn support. In a letter to The Times, eight scientists who work on Cassini say that the decision by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) will damage British astronomy severely. They accuse the agency of breaking international partnerships and jeopardizing British involvement in future missions, to save only about $1.1 million a year.

"The U.K. Cassini teams that discovered the ice volcanoes of the Saturn moon Enceladus, the rich chemistry of the pre-biotic atmosphere of Titan, and the mechanism of Saturn's auroras now face imminent disbandment, abandoning still-functioning U.K.-led instruments in orbit around Saturn," the scientists say. "At the same time that a new U.K. Space Agency is about to be created, the STFC is breaking obligations to international partners and undermining the U.K.'s future position in multinational space projects."

The Cassini mission, which reached Saturn in 2004, is transforming understanding of the planet and its moons. British scientists are involved in operating five of its instruments and processing their observations. However, the STFC, which has a budget shortfall of $180 million, identified further support as a low priority.

For more on this story, read The Times of London.