The Future Of NASA Astrophysics Depends On Undoing Trump’s FY2021 Budget Request
“NASA has always spent more than half of its budget on developing large missions; 2019 was the first time the Astrophysics Division’s numbers dropped below that figure. When a flagship mission overruns, it never eats the rest of the science program; it only can delay the next flagship. And flagships aren’t expensive because of mismanagement; they’re expensive because they’re ambitious, first-of-its-kind science.
Before any servicing missions at all, Hubble cost about $3 billion in late-1980s dollars. If it had started in 2007, the same time Webb started, it would have cost $8.3 billion in inflated dollars. Meanwhile, WFIRST is not having any of the problems that plagued Webb, and is coming in on-schedule and on-budget, with 100 times the field-of-view of Hubble and up to 1500 times faster for large surveys at the same depth. The future of scientific exploration is right at our fingertips, if only we’re bold enough to continuously invest in it.”
Earlier this week, the President’s office released their budget request for the 2021 fiscal year. Just as in every year prior, the administration has proposed terminating the flagship program at NASA Astrophysics by ending the federal funding for it. Flagship missions are arguably the most scientifically fruitful endeavor that NASA undertakes, and without it, we would never have had the Hubble Space Telescope or many other legendary observatories that have forever changed our view of the Universe.
We can have a bright scientific future, but even one year without this essential funding could bring generations of efforts all crashing down. Here’s what we need to do.
Winners And Losers In NASA’s Budget For 2018 And Beyond
“Loser: Long-term stability. As big of a fight as it was to get this bill passed and the crippling proposed cuts by the President overturned, it expires on September 30th of this year. All of these battles will likely need to be fought again in the very short term; WFIRST, James Webb, the Office of Education, and NASA’s Earth Science will quite possibly see additional attempts to curtail, cut, or eliminate them entirely. In past administrations, it was rare to see an already funded-and-agreed-upon mission cancelled. If this year is any indication of what’s to come, there will likely be additional battles required to ensure that many of these missions are seen through to fruition.”
Last week, both houses of Congress put forth the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018, where after threatening a veto, it was signed into law by President Trump on Friday. On the surface, it looks like a tremendous victory for science across-the-board, as many programs that were threatened to be cut or cancelled had their funding restored. However, it’s extremely important to remember that despite all the efforts that went into overturning the President’s proposed cuts, this victory only extends for 6 month; on September 30th, this $1.3T budget expires. At that point, all of these hard-won victories for science, education, and the American people may need to be battles that are fought all over again. In addition, there are some dangerous new precedents that are set here, including the warmongering “America First National Space Strategy.”
Be pleased with the victories that have just been won in this latest budget fight, but don’t get complacent. The war for the soul of America is just getting started.
Cancelling WFIRST Will Permanently Ruin NASA
“We absolutely cannot let this project go down without a fight. If WFIRST gets cancelled, it’s a sign that even the most important NASA project, as determined by internal, external, and independent reviewers, is subject to political whims. These projects take more than a single presidency to design, approve, build, and launch. Federal funding for these vital missions that enhance all of society must not be allowed to disappear because one human — even if it’s the president — wills it. The joys, wonder, knowledge, and benefits that come from exploring and understanding the Universe are greater than any individual.”
When it comes to NASA, there are three main functions that make up the overwhelming majority of its budget: science, exploration, and space operations. Within science, the largest and most important missions, spread across planetary science, astrophysics, Earth science and heliophysics, are known as flagship missions. According to Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate of NASA, “What we learn from these flagship missions is why we study the Universe. This is civilization-scale science… If we don’t do this, we aren’t NASA.” When someone (ahem… Trump) comes in, after decades of planning, and proposes to scrap an already-designed flagship mission, it threatens to end science-as-we-know-it at NASA.
The United States must not cede leadership in the space and science arena to Japan, Russia, Europe, China, India and Canada the same way it did with the superconducting supercollider 25 years ago. This time, humanity’s capability of understanding the entire Universe is what’s at stake.
Horrible FY2019 Budget To Gut NASA Astrophysics, Destroying Cutting-Edge Science
“WFIRST is unprecedented: it’s an observatory the size of Hubble, with the same depth, but with more than 50 times the field-of-view. It would be outfitted with two incredible instruments: a wide-field imager and a coronagraph. The imager is capable of surveying huge areas of the Universe to better understand galaxies, the intergalactic medium, dark matter, and dark energy. It would find thousands of new Type Ia supernovae out to unprecedented distances, and determine to better than 1% whether dark energy is a cosmological constant or something more exotic.”
Today, February 12th, 2018, the Trump administration unveiled their budget proposal for the Fiscal Year 2019, proposing huge cuts to a variety of departments. The biggest surprise loser, however, is NASA. Not only will the Office of Education be eliminated, along with five NASA Earth Science missions, but the flagship astrophysics mission of the 2020s, WFIRST, has been put on the chopping block. NASA gets one of these flagship missions every 10 years; Hubble was it for the 1990s, there were none for the 2000s owing to the “faster, better, cheaper” debacle, and James Webb will be the one for the 2010s. WFIRST, for years, has been the plan for the 2020s, with all the design work complete. It will measure the distant Universe, from exoplanets to galaxies to supernovae and dark energy, as never before. And unless we work with Congress to save it, we won’t have flagship-level science coming out of the 2020s. As Thomas Zurbuchen said last month, speaking for NASA:
“What we learn from these flagship missions is why we study the Universe. This is civilization-scale science… If we don’t do this, we aren’t NASA.”
Come read and understand what the horrible FY2019 budget proposal would do to NASA, and then contact your congresspeople. The time to act is now.
5 Incredible Advances Science Could Buy With The Government’s $600B Military Budget
“5.) A “super-Hubble” over 100 times as powerful as today’s. The Hubble Space Telescope was a revolutionary observatory, and in many ways is still the top dog in the field of astronomy and astrophysics. But at just 2.4 meters in diameter, it’s already reached its maximum resolution. In fact, to see objects ten times as faint, it needs to observe them for 100 times as long! But if we built a space telescope ten times the diameter, at 24 meters, it would not only have ten times the resolution, but would see in just 2 hours what it takes Hubble over a week to see.”
For the past decade or so, the amount of investment in fundamental science, such as NASA and the National Science Foundation, has been flat at around $25 billion per year, total. Meanwhile, military spending has ballooned up to $600 billion annually, meaning that we spend less than 5% on these avenues of exploration and scientific inquiry as we do on war and defense. It makes you wonder what we could do if, even if just for a year, we spent that kind of money on science? Have you heard of the dream of nuclear fusion? For far less than $600 billion, it could become a reality. Did you want a human colony on Mars? For $600 billion, we could have at least four of them. How about a residential solar revolution? For $600 billion, we could give a 2 kW system to every household in the country. And much, much more, from particle physics to space-based observatories.
Don’t fall for lies about how we can’t afford this type of investment. Instead, focus on how incredible our society would become, with just one year’s worth of military spending, if we chose science!
Trump’s NASA Budget Eliminates Education Office, Plunging America Into The Dark
“NASA’s Office of Education, in its current incarnation, oversees and administers around sixty different programs that benefit educators, K-12 students, as well as undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students and researchers. With the Trump administration officially announcing their budget for the next fiscal year, they provide only $37 million for NASA’s Education Office, with one major stipulation: the office must be eliminated entirely.”
So, here we are, encountering one another on the internet. There’s a really good chance that this is because you have some interest in space, science, astronomy, astrophysics, or some related area. Although I am an astrophysicist with a Ph,D. in theoretical physics, my focus over the past decade or so has been on education and public outreach: science communication. There’s an incredible Universe out there that we’re exploring, and the more we learn about it, the more effort we need to put into education and outreach if we want a society that’s with us on the cutting edge. That understands where we are and what we’re doing; that creates valuable opportunities for the next generation of scientists to participate and contribute to the enterprise of science.
So why, then, would we be okay with just eliminating NASA’s Office of Education? If we care about America, we won’t be. Read on.