The Trump administration intends to spare NASA the harsh budget cuts proposed for other non-military US programs, but its $19 billion spending plan for the year beginning Oct. 1 shuffles priorities for the space agency.
The budget outline released on Thursday kills an Obama-era initiative to send a robotic mission to collect a massive chunk from a nearby asteroid and have it relocated into a high-lunar orbit, where astronauts would study it. The Asteroid Redirect Mission, or ARM, has received lukewarm support in Congress.
No reason for canceling the ARM was given other than to "accommodate increasing development costs" in other exploration programs.
"We remain committed to the next human missions to deep space, but we will not pursue the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) with this budget," NASA acting administrator Robert Lightfoot said in a statement.
The agency will continue to work on solar electric propulsion technology, a cornerstone of the ARM initiative, he noted.
The new proposal maintains $3.7 billion in 2018 for development of NASA's heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket and deep-space crewed Orion capsule, without specifying a destination for the transportation system. Ultimately, the long-term goal of the US space program is to land astronauts on Mars, but several other countries and US commercial companies want to develop a base on the moon first.
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"This is a positive budget overall for NASA," Lightfoot said. "I want to reiterate that we are committed to NASA's core mission of exploration."
The spending plan for fiscal year 2018 cancels an Earth science satellite known as Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE); two Earth science instruments planned for the International Space Station; and Earth-viewing instruments for the Deep Space Climate Observatory, or DSCOVR, satellite, which was launched in 2015.
Overall, NASA spending on Earth science for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 would fall 5 percent to $1.8 billion under Trump's budget proposal.
The White House plan also shuts down NASA's Office of Education, which received $115 million last year.
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"We remain committed to studying our home planet and the universe, but are reshaping our focus within the resources available to us," Lightfoot said.
"While this budget no longer funds a formal Office of Education, NASA will continue to inspire the next generation through our missions and channel education efforts in a more focused way through the robust portfolio of our Science Mission Directorate," he went on. "We will also continue to use every opportunity to support the next generation through engagement in our missions and the many ways that our work encourages the public to discover more."
NASA's planetary science projects, which include the Mars 2020 rover and an orbiter to look for life on Jupiter's moon Europa, would get a $300 million boost under the proposed budget, up to $1.9 billion.
More detailed budget numbers will be released in May, but overall NASA fared well compared with other non-military US agencies.
The Trump administration wants to cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent, the State Department by 28 percent, and the Commerce Department, which includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, by 16 percent.
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