What we'll lose with Trump's proposed NASA budget cuts — and why one expert is calling it out
If congress agrees with Trump’s latest budget proposal, NASA will have about $561 million less to work with in 2018 than it did in 2017.
The difference is fairly small — $561 million accounts for roughly a 3% cut from 2017's budget. With that said, significant programs will meet the chopping block because of it: NASA’s education program will completely shut down, along with at least four other missions related to studying asteroids or understanding Earth’s changing climate.
NASA's acting administrator, Robert M. Lightfoot Jr., didn’t sound all that concerned.
“We’ve got $19.1 billion as an agency, and it really reflects the president’s and the administration’s confidence in us,” Lightfoot reportedly said at a presentation to employees in Washington.
But others are not so pleased by the dropping investment. Stephen J. Ezell, president of global innovation policy at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, said that these programs "lay the groundwork for America’s workforce and industry to be competitive tomorrow." Axing them could stifle future generations — particularly millennials — from being world leaders in science, or from understanding how to cope with climate change.
"This notion of cutting the Office of Education, I think is a misguided cut that leaves America worse off in the long run, and that’s not what a good budget should do,” Ezell said in a phone call, later adding, "It’s also critical that we understand the extent of and the cause of climate change. That’s always been an important mission. The Earth is a space system, right? Just like the moon is.”
Here's a breakdown of what exactly is on the chopping block.
NASA's Office of Education, which organizes programs for students of all ages with the hopes of building a future American workforce that's competent in space, tech and sciences is in danger. It has its spiritual roots in U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s vision to keep Americans competitively vested in science globally, "feeding a generation of engineers that would later go onto the industry and make breakthroughs," Ezell said.
The Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, Ocean and Ecosystem satellite, a program designed to closely monitor Earth’s oceanic and atmospheric health, could be cut. The program would collect significant data on marine food webs, diversity of organisms at sea, interactions between the ocean and atmosphere and more. "We will take Earth’s pulse in new ways for decades to come," NASA's website reads.
"This notion of cutting the Office of Education, I think is a misguided cut that leaves America worse off in the long run, and that’s not what a good budget should do."
The Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory, a program that would give scientists detailed climate change projections gathered from a solar spectrometer, could be in trouble. "These tested climate records can be used to lay the groundwork for informed decisions on the mitigation and adaptation policies that address the effects of climate change on society," NASA’s website reads.
Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3, a device designed to measure the distribution of carbon on Earth and how it’s being affected by fossil fuels and urban growth, might lose funding.
Radiation Budget Instrument, a device that measures Earth’s reflected sunlight and thermal radiation, which affect climate and weather, could lose money. “Long-term satellite data from RBI will help scientists and researchers understand the links between the Earth’s incoming and outgoing energy,” NASA’s website reads, and could potentially help scientists forecast weather more accurately.
Maybe we should focus on growing our economy instead, one expert says.
Though NASA’s budget will still allow plenty of things to happen — including a mission to Mars by the early 2030s — Ezell believes that the Trump Administration's overall cuts to research and development foreshadows a darker future for science in America. If the U.S. is concerned about its national debt and economy, the government should actually invest more in these areas, he said.
"We agree that we need to be concerned about the state of federal debt generally, but we need to deal with that with overall economic growth — not cuts in science and education," Ezell said. "You grow the economy by developing in new technologies through research and development. … That’s how you solve the problem."
Increasing the nation's GDP growth rate by just 0.1% could gut $310 billion out of the budget deficit over the next decade, the Congressional Budget Office estimated. In other words, a very small increase could make a significant difference, and Ezell believes that investing in science, tech and research could get us there — not tearing down national education programs.
“You grow the economy by developing in new technologies through research and development. … That’s how you solve the problem.”
"The U.S. economy leads the world today in a number of science and tech-based industries particularly because of the investments that the generations before us sacrificed to make," Ezell said. "It's incumbent upon this current generation to make the same investments today."