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.