WASHINGTON — No more mission to bring astronauts to an asteroid, but stable funding for a trip to Mars. A cut in Earth science programs, but support for a mission to study Jupiter’s icy moon Europa. Elimination of education programs, but more resources to improve cybersecurity of the space program.
President Trump is proposing a $19.1 billion budget for NASA in 2018 that is about the same as the current year’s $19.3 billion allocation – not bad considering the president is proposing deep cuts in many non-Defense programs. EPA alone would see a 31% reduction.
But Trump’s vision for NASA calls for some dramatic shifts from the priorities the space agency pursued under President Obama, according to a broad budget outline the White House released Thursday. Line-item details on the administration’s proposed spending plan for NASA and other executive branch agencies are expected in the coming weeks.
“The budget increases cooperation with industry through the use of public-private partnerships, focuses on the nation’s efforts on deep space exploration rather than Earth-centric research, and develops technologies that would achieve U.S. space goals and benefit the economy,” the outline reads.
The budget could change substantially after it runs through the congressional gauntlet. But it builds on two key priorities embraced by Obama and bipartisan leaders of Congress: sending astronauts to Mars by the 2030s and ceding more NASA-controlled activities in low-Earth orbit to commercial space companies.
What the Trump budget would not do is continue development of the Asteroid Redirect Mission, or ARM, that NASA has been pitching as a fruitful and relatively low-cost steppingstone to Mars. Many Republicans, who did not like how Obama scrapped a return to the moon under the Constellation program, never bought into the asteroid mission.
The two-page outline released Thursday makes no mention of the moon, which is still considered a costly venture because of the price tag of a lunar lander.
But expect Congress to revive a return because of the testing that could be done for a Mars mission, the commercial partnerships (such as mining) that could generate revenue and innovation, and the concern that other countries (read: China) are eyeing their own moon missions.
Highlights of the Trump budget outline include:
- Human exploration: $3.7 billion for the continued development of the Space Launch System that will power astronauts into deep space and the Orion capsule that will carry them safely to Martian orbit.
- Commercial activities: The outline does not include specific numbers but states “the budget creates new opportunities for collaboration with industry.” There’s no indication the Trump administration is walking back progress on NASA programs using aerospace companies, such as SpaceX, Boeing and Orbital ATK, to deliver cargo and, eventually, humans to the International Space Station.
- Planetary science: $1.9 billion to move ahead with the launch of a Mars rover by 2020 and the launch of the Clipper spacecraft to orbit around Jupiter in order to perform a detailed investigation of the giant planet’s moon Europa.
- Earth science: $1.8 billion for a “balanced portfolio” that cuts funding by about $100 million and reflects the president’s skepticism about the science behind climate change. The smaller budget means less funding for Earth science research grants and the termination of four missions to examine the planet: PACE, OCO-3, DSCOVR, and CLARREO Pathfinder.
- Aeronautics: $624 million for research and development for faster and safer supersonic flights.
- Education: Eliminates the entire $115 million program. The outline mentions challenges the program has faced and concludes that it’s “performing functions that are duplicative of other parts of the budget.”