Trump has unveiled his first federal budget. The public may have heard by now that this budget includes cuts to domestic programs, arts and sciences, including cuts to Earth science projects being managed by NASA. The good news is that many space exploration projects such as the Europa Clipper may still continue under NASA’s proposed $19.1 billion dollar budget. The bad news is that the budget is a drop by a few hundred million dollars compared to last year’s budget and cancels the lander that would have hitched a ride on the Europa Clipper.
This lander would have attempted to reach Europa’s surface to provide important details about conditions under the surface of this moon. This capability is important because a lander with the right equipment can take core samples of the icy surface of Europa and provide more detailed data about what lies under that surface than an orbiter can. The Europa Clipper will essentially buzz by Europa once every two weeks in its orbit around Jupiter and will have no actual contact with the surface, which limits the amount of data it can collect over the course of its primary mission. NASA insiders still hope that the lander could be included in a future mission to Jupiter or its moons.
The planned Asteroid Redirect Mission, which would have captured and directed an asteroid into an Earth orbit with an altitude nearly identical to the Moon’s so that it could be explored by astronauts, was also canceled in the proposed budget. Some of the capabilities developed for this mission, such as solar electric propulsion, will be retained.
Overall, NASA is receiving a 20.1% boost to its Planetary Sciences division, but this comes at the cost of a 12.9% cut to its Earth science projects and the termination of four projects: PACE, OCO-3, DSCOVR Earth-viewing instruments, and CLARREO Pathfinder. These projects could be picked up by the NOAA, but it is uncertain whether NOAA will find the budget to do so.
Despite these cuts, NASA’s Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot said in a statement, “We remain committed to studying our home planet and the universe, but are reshaping our focus within the resources available to us.”
The other good news is that Congress will have the final say about this proposed budget and recently passed a bill that provides NASA with $19.508 billion in funding for the next fiscal year. This sets the stage for negotiation between the legislative and executive branches of the U.S. federal government. If NASA supporters wish to encourage their representatives in Congress, they can click here to find out how to contact their Senator and click here to find out how to contact their Representative.
Also important: Do not forget to support events like the March for Science, which will occur on April 22, 2017. Organizers have chosen this day because it coincides with Earth Day and will stress the importance of continued funding for Earth sciences such as the projects managed by NASA. While it might be unreasonable to hope that it will be as big as the Women’s March earlier this year, a good turnout and many phone calls and letters to your representatives can send a message to Congress and local politicians that there are voters who support the sciences.
Trump has done his job of proposing his annual budget, although supporters of science and especially NASA’s Earth observations projects may be disappointed. Now it’s up to Congress to do its job and hopefully refuse to cut NASA’s budget for things like the Europa lander and Earth observations projects. Let’s encourage our Congresspeople to continue to support NASA.