SOURCE: Ars Technica
DATE: February 12, 2018
SNIP: Today, the Trump administration released a proposed budget that called for massive cuts to science research across the federal government. But Trumps’s budget was accompanied by a second document that rescinded some of the cuts, even while complaining that doing so was a bad idea. Meanwhile, drastic cuts to environmental and renewable energy programs remain in both budget versions.
Among the items targeted for elimination is the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, or WFIRST. The plan was to build this using the optical hardware of a spy satellite that was donated by the intelligence community. Once in orbit, it would scan the entire infrared sky using a wide-field lens, allowing large catalogs of different objects, including near-Earth asteroids, to be generated. The budget document more or less says that NASA is getting the James Webb Telescope and shouldn’t expect another so soon: “developing another large space telescope immediately after completing the $8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope is not a priority for the Administration.”
If you think it’s only a joke to suggest that the Trump administration would terminate an active observatory once we’ve gone through the expense of putting it in orbit, well, then you haven’t read the rest of the budget proposal, which attempts to follow through on earlier threats to gut NASA’s Earth-observing missions. Two are not yet launched. One is a satellite called CLARREO pathfinder, which is intended to develop instruments for a follow-on satellite to produce detailed climate records. Another, PACE, would track ocean-atmosphere interactions. Two other satellites would have specific instruments shut down—one of them an Earth-observing camera championed by Al Gore that has been targeted by every Republican administration since he left the vice presidency (the Bush administration shelved the working hardware rather than put it in orbit).
But the most striking thing is the call to shut down the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, which has only been in operation for less than four years. The ability to monitor Earths’ carbon dioxide fluxes was considered so important for following climate change that NASA built a second after the first was lost in a launch accident. The Trump administration would now shut it down.
It’s not only in space where environmental monitoring would be cut. For the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the United States Geological Survey (USGS), there is a clear theme to the budget request: efforts to collect data or study our home planet get funding cuts, and climate-related efforts doubly so.
Reading the budget documents, it’s hard to escape the impression that the administration would simply rather not know about the world around us, even when that knowledge could be essential to saving lives and property.