Trump Budget Proposal Cuts NASA Earth Science Missions, Education & WFIRST Program

Earth as seen from the DSCOVR spacecraft. (Credit: NASA)

Below are excerpts from a White House budget document. As it did with the FY 2018 budget plan, the Trump Administration once again proposes to close NASA’s Office of Education and to cut the same five Earth Science missions. The Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope program would also be canceled.

All totaled, the cuts would be a reduction of $338 million from what was spent on these programs in FY 2017. Congress and the president have not yet settled on final budget figures for FY 2018, which began last Oct. 1.

Proposed FY 2019 Budget Cuts for NASA

Elimination of Five Earth Science Missions
Enacted Funding, FY 2017: $133 million

The Budget proposes to terminate five Earth Science missions: Radiation Budget Instrument (RBI);
Plankton; Aerosol; Cloud; ocean Ecosystem (PACE); Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 (OCO-3); Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) Earth-viewing instruments; and Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO) Pathfinder. The missions would be terminated and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) funding would be prioritized toward supporting an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners.

Justification

The missions proposed for termination are lower-priority science missions that cannot be accommodated under constrained budgets. The proposed termination of these five missions realigns the NASA Earth science portfolio to focus on the highest-priority missions for the science and applications communities within a balanced, comprehensive Earth science program.

The RBI would have flown on a future weather satellite to make measurements of the Earth’s reflected
sunlight and emitted thermal radiation. Similar instruments flying now, including on the recently launched NOAA-20 satellite, would continue to provide continuity for the data record. In January 2018 the Science Mission Directorate conducted a detailed review of the RBI project and recommended cancelling the project due to cost growth and technical challenges.

Measurements similar to those that would have been taken by the PACE and OCO-3 missions are or would be acquired by other satellites. Under this proposal, NASA would cease funding data processing for the DSCOVR Earth-viewing instruments, which provide images of the sunlit side of the Earth and measure the energy reflected and emitted from it. These instruments do not contribute to the core DSCOVR mission of providing measurements for space weather.

The CLARREO Pathfinder mission would have demonstrated measurement technologies for a larger, more expensive, potential future mission focused on improving detection of climate trends. Other missions funded by NASA are maintaining measurements needed for climate data records. The CLARREO Pathfinder mission is in the earliest stages of implementation and is proposed for elimination to achieve cost savings.

Close Office of Education
Enacted Budget, FY 2017: $100 million

The Budget proposes to terminate the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Office of Education, and prioritize NASA funding toward supporting an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners. The Office of Education provides grants to colleges and universities as well as informal education institutions such as museums and science centers.

Justification

The Budget proposes the termination of the Office of Education, redirecting those funds to NASA’s core
mission of exploration. The Budget would support the Administration’s new space exploration policy by redirecting funding to innovative new programs that support the new policy. Additionally, while output data (e.g., number of people funded, or number of events supported) has been tracked, outcome-related data demonstrating program effectiveness has been insufficient to assess the impact of the overall Office of Education portfolio.

NASA would continue to support other education activities, such as fellowships and the Science Activation Program within the Science Mission Directorate that are funded outside the Office of Education.

Cancel WFIRST
Enacted FY 2017 Budget: $105 million

The Budget proposes to terminate the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), given higher
priorities within the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the increasing cost of this telescope.

Justification

Development of the WFIRST space telescope would have required a significant funding increase in 2019 and future years, with a total cost of more than $3 billion. Additionally, a recent independent review concluded that WFIRST was not executable within its previous budget. Given competing priorities at NASA, and budget constraints, developing another large space telescope immediately after completing the $8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope is not a priority for the Administration. The Budget proposes to terminate WFIRST and redirect existing funds to other priorities of the science community, including completed astrophysics missions and research.