Space Science Budget Gets Small Lift
It’s more of a small step than a giant leap. It being funding for NASA in the White House’s federal budget proposal. The plan calls for the space agency to receive about $18.5 billion in fiscal year 2016, up a half-billion over 2015.
About $5.3 billion of that total is devoted to science. But because of how the budget distributes that money among NASA’s many science missions, some planetary-science advocates see the proposal as retrograde—one step forward but several steps back.
The plan includes $228 million for another Mars rover planned to launch in 2020, as well as $30 million to start up a robotic mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa. But the agency wants to kill financial support for two ongoing missions – the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the Mars Opportunity rover. The budget also calls for defunding another current mission in 2017, the Mars Odyssey orbiter.
Of course, these plans aren’t set in moon rocks. Congress will modify the budget before passing it. And in years past, it’s been fond of funding planetary science.
But sooner or later NASA will be faced with hard choices, as its portfolio swells with well-built spacecraft operating far past their planned lifetimes. Ironically, the agency’s sterling record of success with robotic missions may have become too much of a good thing, forcing it to grapple with the extra expenses of some unexpectedly long goodbyes.