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Trump’s NASA budget again calls for cuts to education, Earth sciences

Congress will likely again reject those cuts, space policy experts say

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine discusses the fiscal year 2021 budget proposal during a State of NASA address, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020, at Aerojet Rocketdyne’s facility at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.  Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine discusses the fiscal year 2021 budget proposal during a State of NASA address, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020, at Aerojet Rocketdyne’s facility at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky) ((NASA/Joel Kowsky)\r\rFor copyright and restrictions refer to - http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/guidelines/index.html)

ORLANDO, Fla. – President Donald Trump’s NASA $25.2 billion budget proposal calls for a 12% increase over the current year’s funding for the U.S Space agency but for the fourth year recommends cutting all funding to NASA’s education outreach office that provides resources to students and educators across the country.

The Office of Management and Budget released the White House proposal for the fiscal year 2021 funding Monday. The proposal is submitted to Congress and lays out the president’s vision for NASA.

Trump’s budget includes nearly $3.4 billion for a human moon landing vehicle, a key part of NASA’s Artemis program with the goal of returning astronauts to the moon by 2024.

The human lander will be used to ferry American astronauts between the lunar surface and the Gateway, an orbiting space station around the moon.

Bridenstine said during his State of NASA address Monday the Gateway will help improve technology for future Mars missions.

“Constructing this space vehicle in orbit around the moon will help us prove the technology we need for an eventual crewed mission to the red planet,” Bridenstine said.

Again, this year, the White House budget proposal removes all funding for NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement. This is the fourth budget proposal from the Trump Administration that has tried to pull funding from the office design to “increase K-12 involvement in NASA projects, enhance higher education, support underrepresented communities.”

Space policy expert Laura Seward Forczyk said Congress rejected cuts to the program for the last three years and expects the House to do the same this year.

If funding to the NASA office of education was cut it would impact all 50 states, hurting students and educators, Seward Forczyk said.

“It’s an under the radar kind of initiative where it’s doing great things in all the states, even the states that do not have a large NASA presence,” Seward Forczyk said.

For NASA to cut those education programs it would affect its future workforce, Seward Forczyk said.

Space exploration advocacy nonprofit The Planetary Society, led by popular scientist Bill Nye, released a line-by-line budget breakdown of the proposed 2021 budget, including the changes to programs and missions.

Trump’s budget recommended cutting all funding the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, or WFIRST, a mission currently under development and the long-running Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, “to focus on higher priorities including completion of the James Webb Space Telescope. It also proposes the termination of two Earth science missions.

According to The Planetary Society breakdown, while NASA’s budget would go up overall by 12% science funding would drop by the same amount.

The Planetary Society Senior Space Policy Adviser Casey Dreier was in Washington, D.C. Monday advocating for NASA’s budget.

"This is a very exciting budget for NASA, with some obvious flaws: cutting WFIRST, two Earth Science missions, and STEM Education,” Dreier said in a statement. “The good news is that these flaws are easily fixable, and Congress has repeatedly demonstrated their ability to do so in the past few years. In that context, we believe we can find ways to have an accelerated human spaceflight program well balanced with science and education."

Seward Forczyk said the budget was realistic to kick start the Artemis program, unlike the president’s request last year asking for $1.6 billion last year for the human lander.

It’s also notable, Seward Forczyk said, the White House recommended using a commercial rocket to launch the Europa Clipper mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa. According to the proposal, NASA would save $1.5 billion if the launch was contracted out to a company like SpaceX, United Launch Alliance or Blue Origin instead of launching on NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, known as SLS.

Congress has previously pushed back against using anything other than SLS for the Europa mission.

“It’s not necessarily about saving taxpayer money,” Forczyk said, adding that Congress and the Senate support SLS.

It’s hard to determine how much of Trump’s version of the budget ends up in the final bill approved by Congress but this year in particular with the 2020 election looming large.

“Presidential budget requests are mostly ignored by Congress,” Forczyk said. “Congress will do its own thing and especially this year, it’s an election year.”


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