asteroid
March 17, 2017

Trump’s budget eliminates some NASA programs, boosts others

President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 budget proposal would reduce NASA’s funding from $19.3 billion to $19.1 billion, and although most of the space program’s planned projects would remain intact, a Europa lander and the Asteroid Redirect Mission would be eliminated.

While NASA’s $200 million funding reduction pales in comparison to cuts that would face some federal agencies under the proposed budget (which has to be reviewed and approved by Congress before becoming official), it would make significant changes to how those dollars are spent.

For instance, as the Los Angeles Times reported on Thursday, the proposed budget would call for the cancellation of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Asteroid Redirect Mission, which would have called for a robotic spacecraft to travel to and rendezvous with a large near-Earth asteroid, grab it and move it into orbit around the moon so that it could be studied further in the future.

As the newspaper pointed out, the project has not been without its criticism. Ostensibly designed as a precursor to future NASA missions to Mars and deep space, one scientist called the Asteroid Redirect Mission a “one-off costly stunt” that did nothing but distract from the agency’s ultimate goal of sending a manned mission to the Red Planet.

Despite cuts, NASA Admin calls the budget ‘positive... for NASA’

Also on the chopping block, according to The Verge, would be a proposed mission to place a lander on Jupiter’s moon Europa – although the Europa Clipper mission, which will conduct a flyby of the icy satellite, remains a go. As it stands, no changes were made to manned mission plans, meaning that no moon missions were added and Mars remains our next target.

In a statement, NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot said that the proposed budget “is in line with our funding in recent years, and will enable us to effectively execute our core mission for the nation, even during these times of fiscal constraint,” although it should be noted that it does make significant cuts to the agency’s earth science and climate-change related programs.

Those reductions have many, including California Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), worried. In an interview with the Times, Schiff said that the changes appear to be “more of the continuing assault on climate science, and that’s deeply concerning.” He also noted that he was “concerned about the cancellation of the Europa landing mission” and would work to “restore” it.

According to USA Today, the proposed budget would earmark $3.7 billion for continued work on the Space Launch System and the Orion capsule that will be used on deep space flights as well as on the planned manned mission to Mars. It also approves $1.9 billion in funding to move forward with the Europa Clipper and a new Mars rover scheduled to launch by 2020. However, it will cut four earth science missions (PACE, OCO-3, DSCOVR and CLARREO Pathfinder) as well as the entire $115 million education program.

“I know parts of the budget will create concerns for some,” Lightfoot said, according to CBS News. “As with any budget, we have greater aspirations than we have means, but this blueprint provides us with considerable resources to carry out our mission, and I know we will make this nation proud.” Overall, he added, this is “a positive budget... for NASA.”

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Image credit: NASA