Trump’s first federal budget is out, and while it’s pretty terrible news for education and environmental science, it’s a bit of a mixed bag for NASA. The headline news is that, sadly, the Europa Lander will be no more – for now.
The budget (which comes off the back of recommendations from Congress last week) covers fiscal year 2018, which begins on October 1 this year, and allocates NASA $19.1 billion – a decrease of 0.4 percent from the Obama administration’s last budget.
It’s not a final budget, as the House and Senate will now examine it, make changes, and send it back to be signed. But it does give an idea of what Trump wants to do with NASA – and there are some pretty big losers.
It proposes continuing funding for a mission to Europa in the 2020s called the Europa Clipper. This will fly past the moon multiple times to ascertain if its ocean beneath its icy surface might be habitable.
However, there had been tentative plans to also send a lander to Europa, either on this mission or on a separate mission. This budget would scrap that, although there’s always the chance it will be picked up again in the future.
“[T]he Budget provides no funding for a multi-billion-dollar mission to land on Europa,” states the document, somewhat stomach-churningly titled “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again”.
The funding for the Europa Clipper comes as generally good news for NASA’s Planetary Science division, which would get a 20.1 percent boost in funding from the previous budget. But it's dire news for Earth Science, which is cut by 12.9 percent as a result. NASA involvement in several satellites would be cancelled – although some like DSCOVR could live on through the NOAA.
“The Budget terminates four Earth science missions (PACE, OCO-3, DSCOVR Earth-viewing instruments, and CLARREO Pathfinder) and reduces funding for Earth science research grants,” the budget notes. Great.
“We remain committed to studying our home planet and the universe, but are reshaping our focus within the resources available to us,” NASA’s Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot added in a statement.
The other major cut is to the Asteroid Redirect Mission. This was a proposed mission where an asteroid would be moved into lunar orbit, and astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft – which maintains funding alongside the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket – would fly to it and study it.
“We remain committed to the next human missions to deep space, but we will not pursue the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) with this budget,” said Lightfoot, although he noted that some developments from the project – like solar electric propulsion – would be retained.
This mission has been up for the chop for a while, as some bemoaned its lack of clear purpose. Nonetheless, it leaves NASA’s manned exploration with very little direction in place. The budget makes no specific mention of focusing on getting humans to the Moon or Mars, although it does pledge funding to support “astronauts on deep-space missions”.
The other big losers are aeronautics, which is cut by 26.6 percent, and the Office of Education, which would be scrapped. Support would be maintained for NASA’s commercial endeavors, though, which includes funding companies like SpaceX and Boeing to begin taking astronauts to low-Earth orbit in the next few years.
There are certainly some questionable decisions here. While NASA’s funding remains stable, those hoping Trump wouldn’t be aiming his chopping block at climate science and education are in for a bit of a shock. Save us, James Mattis – you’re our only hope.