NASA officials detail FY 2018 budget proposal
The Trump administration released its Fiscal Year 2018 budget request for the federal government on Tuesday, May 23, 2017. Much of what was proposed for NASA remains the same as what was seen in the “skinny budget” back in March, including the elimination of the agency’s Office of Education and several Earth Sciences missions.
If the request for NASA goes through Congress as is, the U.S. space agency would receive $19.1 billion. With that includes funding for the continued development of the Space Launch System, Orion crew vehicle, and the continued development of the Commercial Crew Program, among other things.
“I want to reiterate how proud I am of the NASA team and its hard work,” said acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot in a statement. “It’s making a real difference in this country and around the world. NASA missions inspire the next generation, inject innovation into the national economy, provide critical information needed to address national challenges, and support global engagement and internal leadership.”
Indeed, according to acting NASA Chief Financial Officer Andrew Hunter in a media teleconference, one of the emphasis placed in this budget is for the space agency to increase cooperation with industry through public-private partnerships, which “focuses the nation’s efforts on deep space exploration rather than Earth-centric research, and develops technologies that would help achieve U.S. space goals and benefit the economy.”
The biggest elimination is arguably NASA’s Office of Education. There will be $37 million provided for close-out costs, but that is it.
The reason for the elimination stems from what the agency said were “significant challenges in implementing a focused NASA-wide education strategy, including providing oversight and integration of agency-wide education activities.”
Hunter said internships, fellowships, and outreach activities such as social media, are funded outside the Office of Education and will continue. Moreover, the Science Mission Directorate’s STEM Science Activation program will continue as well.
There are about 60 jobs that will be affected by this, according to Hunter. However, all of them will either be transferred to other areas around NASA or eliminated once employer contracts are up.
For NASA’s Earth Sciences, while the proposed budget still includes funding for 18 Earth-observing missions in space as well as airborne missions, it does eliminate the Carbon Monitoring System and reduces funding for Earth science research grants. Additionally, it is proposed that the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem mission; the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3; the Radiation Budget Instrument; DSCOVR Earth-viewing instruments; and the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory Pathfinder mission all be terminated.
“The hard choices are still there, and we can’t do everything,” Lightfoot said. “But we can certainly do a lot, and each member of the NASA team, every day, is helping to create the future.”
Indeed, NASA will see an increase in planetary science and astrophysics. The budget would fully fund the continued development of the Mars 2020 rover and formulation of Europa Clipper, albeit without a Europa lander.
Additionally, Lucy and Psyche, NASA’s two newest asteroid science missions, will also be fully funded. The budget also supports the operation of 10 planetary missions, including the Opportunity rover, which has been on Mars since 2004.
As for the Asteroid Redirect Mission, that will be canceled. However, Hunter said all of the central technology development, such as solar electric propulsion, will continue outside of the program.
While funding for SLS, Orion, and the Commercial Crew Program will see decreases in 2018, Hunter said a lot of that has to do with the development winding down. For example, starting as early as next year, NASA will certify Boeing and SpaceX to send crews to the International Space Station. The costs will then shift from spacecraft development to paying for crewed flights to the outpost.
“Working with commercial partners, NASA will fly astronauts from American soil on the first new crew transportation systems in a generation in the next couple of years,” Lightfoot said. “We are continuing the development of solar electric propulsion for use on future human and robotic missions. NASA is fabricating and assembling the systems to launch humans into lunar orbit by 2023. Our budget request supports progress toward these and many other major milestones as part of the diverse portfolio of work we execute as we explore, discover, and develop on behalf of the American people.”
One thing that was absent from the budget was the recently talked about Deep Space Gateway. According to Hunter, it isn’t in the budget because it still requires some “introduction activity” for support in the Trump administration and Congress.
Regardless, Lightfoot is optimistic about the budget.
“We have a budget that also provides the necessary resources in the coming year to support our plans to send humans to Mars orbit in the 2030s,” Lightfoot said. “The European service module will be delivered to the Kennedy Space Center for integration with Orion in 2018. Prototype ground testing of habitat modules under our broad area announcement activity will happen in 2018.”
Additionally, Lightfoot said having an additional crew member on the International Space Station in 2018, in part because of the Commercial Crew Program, will allow the station to greatly enhance the research and advancement toward exploration.
“The station continues to create new opportunities for collaboration with industry and supports public-private partnerships for exploration systems that will extend human presence into the solar system,” Lightfoot said. “So there’s a lot to look forward to.”
The FY 2018 budget request still needs to go through both houses of Congress before being signed by the president. As such, the final budget could look different than what is being proposed.
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a blog about the International Space Station, called Orbital Velocity.