The budget has big implications for the future of NASA. (Photographer: Billy Brown)
Science

NASA’s new budget: the overview

by Michael Maccallam

With every day bringing about a new story regarding Donald Trump, it seems easy to overlook many things that may be happening in the USA at the moment. Such things include aspects of the President’s recently announced budget, which has received criticism from many people in America, but seemingly not from NASA.

In a statement from Robert Lightfoot, the acting Administrator for NASA, he talks about how the budget will affect NASA’s funding, and seems to be pleasantly optimistic for the future of space exploration. NASA will receive $19 billion worth of funding, which Lightfoot judges to be ‘in line with our funding in recent years, and will enable us to effectively execute our core mission for the nation’. This funding follows Trump’s speech to both houses of Congress, in which he said that ‘American footprints for distant worlds are not too big a dream’, which shows that despite the controversy that surrounds Trump’s cuts to other government departments, space exploration surprisingly seems to be a priority of his.

Although the budget for NASA only makes up roughly 0.5% of the total US federal budget, it still marks a significant step towards the prospect of manned missions to Mars, with Lightfoot commenting that the budget ‘bolsters our ongoing work to send humans deeper into space and the technologies that will require.’

NASA’s ambitions have become much more advanced in recent years, ushering in commercial flights to the International Space Station, probes to the farthest regions of our solar system taking high quality pictures of Pluto, and inevitable manned missions to Mars within the following decades.

Despite the widespread optimism surrounding the budget, it’s not all positive for some parts of NASA’s offices; the Office of Education has formally had its funding stopped, but despite this cut Lightfoot has assured people that ‘NASA will continue to inspire the next generation through our missions’, which is in line with the existing ambitions of the Office of Education, which it states as strengthening NASA’s workforce, attracting and retaining students, and engaging Americans in NASA’s mission. Despite the Office being formally cut, reassurances have been made to ensure engagement with the next generation of scientists and explorers.

In the statement Lightfoot also stated that ‘we remain committed to the next human missions to deep space, but we will not pursue the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) with this budget.’ He stresses that this will not detract from current achievements made by the ARM, an area of NASA that deals with redirecting the paths of asteroids, which would have helped in the manned missions to Mars.

Nonetheless, despite the cuts to two of its areas of research, Lightfoot is confident that ‘this is a positive budget overall for NASA’, and strongly believes that with the budget given by Trump, which will take effect later this year, NASA’s core mission remains intact, and will not hinder the new age of space exploration that the Administration wish to pursue.

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