NASA’s Earth sciences program is not exactly in the Trump administration’s good graces, with grim funding prospects as revealed by a blueprint of the White House’s 2018 requests. Based on the document, it will receive $1.8 billion, a cut of $102 million or about 5 percent from its 2016 budget level.
Despite the proposed budget reduction, however, NASA officials are confident that the Earth sciences program is still a go, with no major disruptions in sight.
De-emphasizing Planned Cuts
The blueprint, also dubbed the “skinny” budget, harbored plans to terminate four missions currently under development, namely the ocean-monitoring PACE satellite, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 instruments for the International Space Station, the Deep Space Climate Observatory, and the CLARREO Pathfinder for measuring heat levels in our atmosphere.
But at a March 30 NASA Advisory Council meeting, NASA acting administrator Robert Lightfoot was quick to acknowledge the planned cuts while putting emphasis away from their possible 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. We continue to be committed to study our home planet,” he said, as reported by Space News.
The U.S. space agency will “reshape” its focus based on available resources, Lightfoot added, saying the lower budget still fits their planned activities concerning Earth science.
At a previous gathering, NASA’s Earth science division director Michael Freilich also seemed to play down the planned cuts, saying that while significant, the impact “is not existential.”
Freilich also delved on the lack of language about the division in the NASA authorization act recently passed by Congress and signed by Trump into law. Earth science’s omission in the bill, he said, led to some conclusion that the said programs were no longer authorized.
Planned Science And Health Budget Cuts Under Fire
While the missing Earth science provisions in the act is not one of the matters that Freilich said he worries about, the planned budget cuts in different areas of science and health received great criticism from scientists and advocates.
In March, planetary scientists decried the proposed cuts on Earth science missions. During a March 20 event in Texas, scientist Nancy Chabot dubbed it “short-sighted” to be pleased with the planetary science budget and not mourn the cuts on the other field.
“Planetary science does not live in isolation,” Chabot said.
Without directly mentioning Trump or the proposed budget, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson also railed against science and health budget cuts that could make America “sick,” “weak,” and “stupid.”
Earth science is not the only NASA program on the chopping board. It finds company in the NASA Office of Education, which is aimed to be eliminated when it received $115 million in 2016. The said office is engaged in conducting internships, scholarships, and camps and enrichment programs for future scientists, as well as support provision for women and minorities in STEM fields.
The biggest portion of the agency funds ($3.7 billion), on the other hand, will go to NASA’s human exploration division for the famed Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System jumbo rocket intended for planet Mars.