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NASA budget concerns

3-19-2019

George Kharchilava, Staff Writer

On March 11th, NASA’s Presidential Budget request for 2020 was released. A cut of approximately 2.2% ($481 million) from the previous year was proposed and many of NASA’s projects and organizations could be affected by this. For starters, funding for the Lunar Gateway project nearly doubles to $820 million. There has been growing interest in returning humans to the Moon, with President Trump making it his top priority for NASA by signing Space Policy Directive One. “We are going to the moon with innovative new technologies and systems to explore more locations across the surface than we ever thought possible. This time, when we go to the moon, we will stay.” Says NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

The Earth’s moon is not the only moon that the budget has its eyes on. The Europa Clipper mission, which was not to be launched until the late-2020s, had its launch date moved up to 2023. This mission seeks to send a spacecraft in orbit around Jupiter to study Europa; a moon that is through to have a giant liquid ocean underneath its surface. Another interplanetary mission is getting an upgrade is this budget passes. The Mars 2020 rover will proceed smoothly, with money being added on to a future mission to bring the samples it collects back to Earth.

Along with those projects, the SLS has been targeted by this proposed budget as well. The SLS (Space Launch System), is the newest heavy lift rocket being developed by NASA. It is currently comprised of an Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage, which was to be replaced by the Exploration Upper Stage. The budget now defers the work of the Block 1B version which contained this new stage in favor of completing the initial design of the rocket. The budget is now set at $1.78 billion for the Space launch System and the document stated that this would speed up the timeline for lunar exploration.

Not all projects are in the interests of the FY2020 budget.  This proposal seeks to cut funding for the WFIRST observatory, which was meant to study dark energy and exoplanets. WFIRST was attacked before this budget, but congress has shown strong support for its creation. Its field view would be one hundred times more than that of Hubble’s, which would reap great insights to distant objects. Science education is also getting a huge cut, as is the two climate science missions, PACE and CLARREO. PACE was to study the carbon dioxide cycle between the ocean and atmosphere, while CLARREO is just a demonstration to a future CLARREO climate change observation mission.

Only time will tell whether these proposals will come to fruition, as Congress still has to pass this budget. There is clear disagreement with certain ideas between POTUS and Congress, such as keeping WFIRST alive and on schedule. In the meantime, NASA will continue along doing ground breaking research wherever there is money to fund it.