opinion   |   column

Changes in NASA budget could affect space research



At first glance, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration seemed to have a bleak future due to the budget restructuring proposed by the Trump administration and the cancellation of the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope. 

NASA'S total budget has not been cut, it has in fact been increased. But there have been cuts within this budget. NASA's education budget, for instance, is currently slated to be eliminated entirely by 2019. 

It appears that Trump wants to do something big with NASA. However, he is sacrificing some of the most important aspects of the the space program.

WFIRST was supposed to be the successor of the Hubble Space Telescope and would have been a vital step forward for NASA’s mission to explore dark energy and exoplanets on the outskirts of our solar system. 

According to the National Academies’ Astro2010 decadal survey in 2010, it was projected to be the single most groundbreaking project of the decade. 

I couldn't believe after nearly a decade of emphasis on how important the WFIRST project was that its funding was removed from the current proposal for the future budget.

However, after learning that the budget is being refocused on projects such as a manned missions to Mars, I understand the motive more. It still saddens me, though, becausePresident Trump’s expansion of the NASA budget in 2017 was one of the few moves during his campaign that I was genuinely pleased with, and I was hopeful this expansion would protect further WFIRST development. 

These budget changes imply that the Trump Administration prefers to focus the space budget toward crewed missions to the moon and Mars. 

Despite this, many astronomers and astrophysicists are deeply displeased that the funds for various other NASA projects, including WFIRST, have been eliminated. 

According to NASA, WFIRST was supposed to do the following: study dark energy, measure the history of cosmic acceleration, complete the exoplanet census and demonstrate technology for direct imaging and characterization of exoplanets.

Astronomers said they are saddened by this cut because now the astronomers have to rely on outside research instead of conducting it in the United States. Megan Donahue, American Astronomical Society president-elect, even said the overall change in the astrophysics budget could cripple U.S. astronomy. 

Budget increases seen last year — such as the NASA exploration program, which was increased by $19 billion — should have been an indication for the direction of Trump’s plan with NASA. 

Sure, the WFIRST project is an incredible innovation that would make the U.S. stand apart from the rest of the world, but we can’t physically see that project. We can just see the data.

By sending people to the moon or Mars, these missions would possibly incite a new era of the space race. Some people may refer to that age as the Golden Age of American innovation. But even this potentiality is not without what some astronomers see as a significant sacrifice to scientific progress.   

I do not fully agree with the budget restructuring, but I can at least understand it. I would prefer NASA’s budget to go where NASA wants it to go, but I am still happy they have the money to remain operational. 

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