With NASA Bake Sale, Planetary Fundraisers Go Old School

As someone who’s been known to enjoy her cupcakes with a side of science, I was excited to find out about the National Planetary Exploration Car Wash & Bake Sale, coming to a town near you on Saturday, June 9.

Jupiter cupcakes, a recipe designed by Jamieanne Hassler for our Planetology cupcake contest.
—Photo courtesy Jamieanne Hassler

The goal is to raise awareness of NASA’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget, which right now calls for a 20-percent cut in spending for planetary science.

In true American tradition, when funds are low and a cause is in need, people hit the streets, grassroots style.

But how will a day of sudsing Chevys and selling lemon bars manage to raise the missing $300 million? Project organizer Alan Stern, an astronomer at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, gave us the skinny:

What inspired you to start a “fundraiser” for planetary science?

There are many things going on across the country to combat these budget cuts, such as major institutions writing letters to Congress or scientists giving talks on the Hill. These efforts are great and I totally support them. But I got to thinking, What about local action? So I got the idea to have events all around the country where planetary scientists would work for their communities and talk about the cuts and how damaging they are.

Okay, so what’s the damage, exactly?

NASA has said that if the budget cuts go through, the Mars exploration program will be drastically cut down, as will the Discovery program, which sends [small, lower cost] spacecraft to the rest of planets. There’ll also be no big flagship mission to the outer solar system. It’s an across-the-board punch in the gut to the planetary program.

Who’s signed up to participate?

We’ve got about 20 groups so far that will be holding events in places around the country—Los Angeles, Houston, Washington, D.C., Orlando. The national fundraiser is a single concept, but each event will be different, based on how local organizers have designed their programs.

Here in Boulder, a couple dozen scientists and students—me included—will be shining shoes [near the Pearl Street Mall]. Other places will wash cars or sell cupcakes or make lemonade … any of the kinds of things that immediately call to mind something small-scale and informal. Some events will also feature celebrities, either someone known in the space community or a local politician.

How will you use any profits from the event?

We initially considered charging nominal fees, but we ultimately decided it’d be better if there’s no exchange of funds. We’ll just be shining shoes and cleaning eyeglasses and not asking for any money. What we want is for people’s help in communicating with Congress that the planetary program is important, because of how it promotes science leadership in the U.S. and how it motivates kids in school.

We’re not asking for more money, we’re just asking for the cuts to be repaired.

Changing Planet