The fiscal 2018 budget request of the Trump administration allots $19.1 billion for NASA. This is a $561 million drop over formerly enacted levels, one that would diminish the number of Earth science missions as well as remove the education office.
NASA’s acting administrator Robert Lightfoot, however, chooses positivity.
Lightfoot On Proposed NASA Budget
In a May 23 speech on the agency’s recently released 2018 budget estimate, Lightfoot carried a hopeful tone and said that he considers the proposed budget a sign of general support for their office.
“We just can’t do everything we want to do. But we can do a lot,” said Lightfoot in a speech webcast live on NASA TV, adding that there were “hard choices” NASA had to always make.
He considered the budget reflective of Trump’s and “the administration’s confidence” in NASA, and lauded the agency for getting such confidence amid overall pressures on the national budget and the country.
He also praised the work of NASA employees and contractors, along with NASA missions that are now underway across the different divisions of the U.S. space agency.
“What this budget tells us to do is to keep going,” Lightfoot added.
At a March 30 meeting of the NASA Advisory Council, Lightfoot acknowledged the planned budget cuts but veered away from discussing their potential effects.
“Overall, I’d say science funding was stable at the topline, although some missions in development will clearly not go forward in the Earth science arena,” he said.
2018 NASA Budget: Winners And Losers
The budget is close enough to the administration’s blueprint released back in March. The acting administrator believes that the budget renders the nation’s space program still healthy and experiencing relatively modest cuts versus other federal agencies.
The NASA budget sustains support for programs needed to achieve its ultimate goal of sending humans to Mars, Lightfoot said. Such programs include the continuing development of the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch Systems (SLS) rocket. Moving closer to their completion, both will have a decreased budget in 2018 compared to 2017.
Robust support also remains for the $8.6 billion James Webb Space Telescope, which will succeed the Hubble Space Telescope. The same is expected for two robotic Mars landers, two asteroid probes, and a mission to investigate Jupiter's moon Europa from orbit.
On the downside, cuts will be given to multiple Earth science missions such as the PACE satellite, the OCO-3 experiment, CLARREO Pathfinder, and the 2015-launched observatory DSCOVR. A NASA statement noted that 18 Earth-observing space missions and airborne missions will stay as “significant Earth science efforts.”
NASA’s education office, too, will be reduced from $100 million to $37 million, which is sufficient enough to close down operations. Lightfoot guaranteed, however, that they will keep inspiring the next generation through their varying missions.
The International Space Station (ISS), on the other hand, will still be fully funded along with commercially acquired cargo missions launched by companies Space X and Orbital ATK.
Budget for continually developing commercial crew ships built by SpaceX and Boeing for ferrying astronauts back and forth is slashed, but the space firms are expected to be near flight readiness.