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The 80s
1981 - present
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Bruce Murray
  JPL Director Bruce Murray.
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  Lew Allen
  JPL Director Lew Allen.
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  In early 1981, the White House Office of Management and Budget demanded deep cuts to NASA's budget. In response, NASA administrator James M. Beggs proposed terminating the nation's planetary exploration program. This would, he had pointed out to White House officials, "make the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California surplus to our needs."

JPL Director Murray organized a political campaign in Washington to save JPL and the planetary program. Murray and allies in Congress succeeded in salvaging the Galileo mission to Jupiter. Acknowledging that this was not enough to preserve JPL for long, Murray also gained Caltech and NASA approval to begin doing Defense Department-sponsored research and development.

After Murray retired in 1982, his successor, Lew Allen, gained three missions from the slowly reviving NASA science program. Two were planetary missions, Mars Observer and Magellan to Venus, and the third an Earth science mission, Topex/Poseidon. Somewhat ironically, JPL reached its historic peak employment in 1987, with more than 7,000 employees and contractors. This was also the year military funding for JPL reached its peak, 35 percent of the lab's total budget.

Finally, JPL became a significant builder of scientific instruments during the decade. In 1986, NASA held a competition to develop instruments for a new "Mission to Planet Earth" that the lab's scientists did very well in.
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