CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, along with Rep. Nick Rahall, all D-W.Va., pledged to "be vigilant in seeking a solution that will ensure Green Bank Observatory's continued operation" in a letter sent earlier this week to National Science Foundation Director Subra Suresh.
The letter was written in response to a recommendation made last month by the NSF's Astronomy Portfolio Review Committee that the NSF divest itself of the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope as part of a long-range, cost-cutting overhaul.
In the letter, Rockefeller, Manchin and Rahall, whose Congressional district encompasses Green Bank, asked Suresh to supply a "detailed timeline of the decision-making process" involved in determining whether to implement the recommendation to stop funding the huge telescope.
The letter also called for Suresh to provide a "clear understanding of the specific legal authorities that NSF has to transfer the observatory to another federal agency, university or private entity," and to specify what plans the NSF has to "transition each and every Green Bank employee under a potential divestment scenario."
Since a decision by the NSF on whether to accept the recommendation is not scheduled to be made until December 2013, Rockefeller, Manchin and Rahall told Suresh they hoped NSF officials will use the next 16 months to carefully assess "alternate options for each facility that has been recommended for divestment."
If a decision is made to drop NSF funding for the Green Bank Telescope, divestment would take place during a five-year period.
The National Radio Astronomy Observatory at Green Bank pumps about $6.5 million annually into the regional economy in salaries and investments, while the observatory's 50,000 annual visitors generate another $7.5 million, according to the letter.
"Protecting quality science jobs and maintaining the operations of the largest scientific asset in the state will be a priority of the highest magnitude," the senators and congressman concluded.The $95 million Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, which began a full-scale program of observations in 2002, is the world's largest fully steerable radio telescope.