Astronauts walking across the surface of the moon and floating in zero gravity have inspired kids (and grown-ups) for decades; these near super-humans are truly living the dream. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), established in 1958, continues to inspire the American public – and seemingly no one in Congress wants to see its funding reduced.
At a hearing on Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies weighed in on the president’s proposed NASA budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018, echoing concerns from the House hearing two weeks ago, including cuts to education and Earth science programs.
The president’s proposed budget, which favors NASA’s space exploration programs at the expense of Earth science, proposes a $516 million reduction to the agency. It would eliminate NASA’s Office of Education and cut Earth science programs by 8.7 percent compared to the FY 2017 enacted level. Chairman Richard Shelby (AL) quickly addressed the $516 million cut, saying impacts would be felt for years, and “there are proposals to cut science missions and to eliminate the entire education directorate using the rationale that NASA could do without these programs under a reduced budget.” Ranking Member Jeanne Shaheen (NH) also addressed the importance of education in growing the next generation of technical workers. She went on to criticize proposed cuts to both Earth science programs, which she said help the agency reach its “calling to explore, discover, teach, and inspire” and Earth observations missions, five of which were proposed for termination. In an exchange with Senator Chris Van Hollen (MD), Mr. Robert Lightfoot (Acting Administrator, NASA) addressed why one of these, the Pre-Aerosol, Clouds, and Ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission (which would gather information about the ocean) was zeroed out. Mr. Lightfoot explained that, since PACE was not mentioned in NASA’s decadal assessment, and because they think they can gather those same data differently, the decision was made to propose ending the PACE program to reach the requisite cuts. Shortly after the Senate hearing, the House held a markup of their FY 2018 Commerce, Justice, and Science bill, which, if enacted, would give NASA more funding than the agency has ever received.