Friday, February 23, 2018

Proposed NASA Budget Cuts IR Space Telescope & Phases Out International Space Station

This photograph shows a model of what the Wide-Field Infrared Space Telescope (WFIRST) would look like, if ever constructed. (Image Sources: NASA,

By Glenn A. Walsh
Reporting for SpaceWatchtower

A proposed Wide-Field Infrared Space Telescope would be canceled, and funding for the International Space Station would be phased-out by 2025, in a NASA budget for Fiscal Year 2019 proposed by the Trump Administration. The budget places higher priorities on missions which would take humans back to the Moon, and eventually to Mars.

An Internet link to the entire proposed FY 2019 NASA budget can be found near the end of this blog-post.

This proposal bumps-up NASA funding to $19.9 billion for one year (due to the recently-passed two-year Federal budget compromise), but reduces the budget back to $19.6 billion for future years. NASA Acting Chief Financial Officer Andrew Hunter said the extra $300 million for FY 2019 will be spread across several agency programs: planetary science, construction, exploration research, aiding transition of NASA communications services to commercial satellites, and commercial cargo.

There are other NASA programs slated for elimination by this proposed budget including five Earth-science missions (most related to climate change, including one in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). And, it is proposed that the NASA education office, which for decades has helped the general public, particularly school children, understand the various NASA missions, would also be shuttered.

However the biggest surprise in the budget, and the surprise that has most outraged scientists, is the cancellation of the Wide-Field Infrared Space Telescope (WFIRST). To be launched in the mid-2020s after the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, the primary mission of WFIRST is to study dark energy, little understood by scientists, which comprises 68.3 per-cent of the energy in the known Universe. Another important mission of WFIRST is the continual search for planets in other solar systems, including a chronograph which should provide the first direct images and spectra of some of these exo-planets.

WFIRST was first proposed in 2010, as the result of an exhaustive study of possible NASA missions conducted every ten years called the Decadal Survey. An expert committee of scientists, organized by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, had declared WFIRST as the top priority for a large “flagship” space telescope after the Webb Space Telescope is orbited and operating.

The American Astronomical Society (AAS – the major organization of professional astronomers in North America) has denounced the proposed cancellation of WFIRST saying, "We cannot accept termination of WFIRST, which was the highest-priority space-astronomy mission in the most recent decadal survey." In the statement issued by AAS President-elect Megan Donahue, she also says, "And the proposed 10% reduction in NASA's astrophysics budget, amounting to nearly $1 billion over the next five years, will cripple US astronomy."

In an op-ed column in, Jon A. Morse, former Director of NASA's Astrophysics Division (who now heads the non-profit BoldlyGo Institute and is a Research Associate at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), said “The long-term picture that the WFIRST cancellation and budget reduction presents for the future of NASA’s astrophysics program is troubling...Despite performing world-class science that captures the imaginations of people around the globe, it is stunning to see that the astrophysics funding is projected to be below its budget from 15 years ago, as though it were a dying field of inquiry with no discoveries left to make. Nothing could be further from the truth!”

Jon Morse concludes the op-ed column by saying, “Congress needs to restore the WFIRST mission to NASA’s portfolio, to avoid the catastrophe of a “lost decade” and atrophying U.S. leadership in some of the world’s most exciting scientific fields.”

The eventual phase-out of Federal funding for the International Space Station (ISS) by 2025 was expected. It is the wish of the Trump Administration to transition the ISS to the private sector by 2025. To aid in this transition to ISS operation by corporate entities, NASA would be funded $150 million in the first year, with the eventual expenditure of $900 million over the next five years for such a commercial transition.

For the return of Americans to the Moon, the budget proposes that a “key power and propulsion space tug” be commercially launched by 2022, as a major part of NASA's Lunar Orbital Platform – Gateway. The proposed budget also includes a new lunar robotic exploration program and an Exploration Research and Technology program to increase technological knowledge needed to sustain human habitation of the Moon and beyond.

While the astrophysics budget is proposed to be cut, the planetary science budget would be increased by $2.2 billion. This includes $50 million to begin planning for a robotic Mars sample return mission, as well as $150 million for planetary defense against wayward asteroids.

Other planetary missions included in the budget are the Mars 2020 Rover mission and “Europa Clipper,” which will investigate Jupiter's icy moon, Europa, which has a large sea below the ice that could include some forms of life.

As with most Presidential proposed budgets, this proposal will undoubtedly be modified by the U.S. Congress before being formally enacted. Already, some members of Congress are condemning the proposed budget cuts to NASA programs.

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, said in a statement, “The administration’s budget for NASA is a nonstarter. If we’re ever going to get to Mars with humans on board and return them safely, then we need a larger funding increase for NASA.” Senator Nelson was the second sitting member of Congress to fly in space, as a Payload Specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia, launched on 1986 January 12 (this was the last successful Space Shuttle mission before the tragic loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger on 1986 January 28).

Senator Nelson also said, regarding the ending of Federal funding for the ISS, “Turning off the lights and walking away from our sole outpost in space at a time when we’re pushing the frontiers of exploration makes no sense.”

Criticism by U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), ranking Democrat on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, went beyond the cuts to NASA: “When I was first briefed on ‘highlights’ of President Trump’s budget request, I was incredulous at its treatment of our federal science agencies. To propose slashing EPA’s budget and DOE’s EERE, eliminating NASA’s education programs and several Earth science instruments and missions, and cutting NOAA’s oceans and atmospheric programs, just to name a few of the damaging proposals in this document, shows that this Administration has no appreciation for the role that these agencies play in driving the economy, keeping our nation competitive, and protecting the environment and public health. The only good thing about this budget is that it’s so extreme, I have no doubt that it will be summarily rejected by both sides of the aisle.”

Internet Links to Additional Information ---

Wide-Field Infrared Space Telescope (WFIRST):
Link >>>

Trump Administration FY 2019 Budget Request for NASA:
Link >>>

Information Regarding Budget of NASA:
Link >>>

Related Blog Post ---

"NASA & the Trump Administration." 2017 Jan. 23.

Link >>>

Source: Glenn A. Walsh Reporting for SpaceWatchtower, a project of Friends of the Zeiss.
             2018 February 23.

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