Hundreds of individuals attended two public meetings held by the National Science Foundation at Green Bank Observatory. The NSF is considering operational changes for the observatory in light of budget constraints, including potentially shutting down the facility completely.
Members of the public included everyone from students from West Virginia University to residents of Pocahontas County. One by one they went to the podium and urged the NSF to avoid shutting down the facility comletely, citing the observatory's importance to the local economy and community as well as to research and education.
"This is everybody's money, and we're known worldwide because of this telescope," Buster Varner, the fire chief at Bartow-Frank-Durbin Volunteer Fire Department, told representatives of the NSF at the meeting. "I think you're barking up the wrong tree. You need to look at something else to shut down. Because if this facility went out of there, this will be a ghost town."
The NSF is considering divesting from various facilities around the country in order to allocate money for facilities that can do newer, cutting-edge research.
"There are difficult things the National Science Foundation has to do," Edward Ahjar, an astronomist at the NSF who attended the meeting. "All of our facilities do great science, and that's why we fund them. But when we start to have less and less money to spread around, then we have to prioritize them - which are doing the most important science now, and which are lower ranked."
A final decision will be made by the end of next year.