Trump Budget Proposal Cuts NASA Earth Science Missions, Education & WFIRST Program

Earth as seen from the DSCOVR spacecraft. (Credit: NASA)

Below are excerpts from a White House budget document. As it did with the FY 2018 budget plan, the Trump Administration once again proposes to close NASA’s Office of Education and to cut the same five Earth Science missions. The Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope program would also be canceled.

All totaled, the cuts would be a reduction of $338 million from what was spent on these programs in FY 2017. Congress and the president have not yet settled on final budget figures for FY 2018, which began last Oct. 1.

Proposed FY 2019 Budget Cuts for NASA

Elimination of Five Earth Science Missions
Enacted Funding, FY 2017: $133 million

The Budget proposes to terminate five Earth Science missions: Radiation Budget Instrument (RBI);
Plankton; Aerosol; Cloud; ocean Ecosystem (PACE); Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 (OCO-3); Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) Earth-viewing instruments; and Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO) Pathfinder. The missions would be terminated and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) funding would be prioritized toward supporting an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners.


The missions proposed for termination are lower-priority science missions that cannot be accommodated under constrained budgets. The proposed termination of these five missions realigns the NASA Earth science portfolio to focus on the highest-priority missions for the science and applications communities within a balanced, comprehensive Earth science program.

The RBI would have flown on a future weather satellite to make measurements of the Earth’s reflected
sunlight and emitted thermal radiation. Similar instruments flying now, including on the recently launched NOAA-20 satellite, would continue to provide continuity for the data record. In January 2018 the Science Mission Directorate conducted a detailed review of the RBI project and recommended cancelling the project due to cost growth and technical challenges.

Measurements similar to those that would have been taken by the PACE and OCO-3 missions are or would be acquired by other satellites. Under this proposal, NASA would cease funding data processing for the DSCOVR Earth-viewing instruments, which provide images of the sunlit side of the Earth and measure the energy reflected and emitted from it. These instruments do not contribute to the core DSCOVR mission of providing measurements for space weather.

The CLARREO Pathfinder mission would have demonstrated measurement technologies for a larger, more expensive, potential future mission focused on improving detection of climate trends. Other missions funded by NASA are maintaining measurements needed for climate data records. The CLARREO Pathfinder mission is in the earliest stages of implementation and is proposed for elimination to achieve cost savings.

Close Office of Education
Enacted Budget, FY 2017: $100 million

The Budget proposes to terminate the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Office of Education, and prioritize NASA funding toward supporting an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners. The Office of Education provides grants to colleges and universities as well as informal education institutions such as museums and science centers.


The Budget proposes the termination of the Office of Education, redirecting those funds to NASA’s core
mission of exploration. The Budget would support the Administration’s new space exploration policy by redirecting funding to innovative new programs that support the new policy. Additionally, while output data (e.g., number of people funded, or number of events supported) has been tracked, outcome-related data demonstrating program effectiveness has been insufficient to assess the impact of the overall Office of Education portfolio.

NASA would continue to support other education activities, such as fellowships and the Science Activation Program within the Science Mission Directorate that are funded outside the Office of Education.

Enacted FY 2017 Budget: $105 million

The Budget proposes to terminate the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), given higher
priorities within the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the increasing cost of this telescope.


Development of the WFIRST space telescope would have required a significant funding increase in 2019 and future years, with a total cost of more than $3 billion. Additionally, a recent independent review concluded that WFIRST was not executable within its previous budget. Given competing priorities at NASA, and budget constraints, developing another large space telescope immediately after completing the $8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope is not a priority for the Administration. The Budget proposes to terminate WFIRST and redirect existing funds to other priorities of the science community, including completed astrophysics missions and research.

  • windbourne

    the GOP continues to wipe out science.

  • 868686

    Cut SLS and Orion and there will be plenty of money left.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Its amazing to think it would cost over $3 billion to convert an existing surplus spy satellite to a space telescope.

    I am not surprised they are turning the Earth camera of DSCOVR (aka Goresat) off since it was intended from the start as to serve a political purpose.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yes, imagine only spending a mere $4 billion on it ($2.2 billion for planetary science and $1.8 billion for Earth sciences).

  • Kirk

    Re DSCOVR:
    “Under this proposal, NASA would cease funding data processing for the
    DSCOVR Earth-viewing instruments, which provide images of the sunlit
    side of the Earth and measure the energy reflected and emitted from it.”

    I wonder what the $ savings from this is supposed to be.

  • ThomasLMatula

    This doesn’t have anything to do with money, which is why that argument is irrelevant.

    When you build a satellite for political purposes don’t be surprised when it is shut down for political reasons no matter the cost. VP Gore, after he had a dream vision, pushed NASA to build Goresat (then known as Triana) to show the public the whole Earth 24/7 to promote environmentalism. It never went through the normal review process. When the Bush Administration came in they stuck it in storage. When the Obama Administration came in they pulled it out of storage, rebranded it as DSCOVR and launched it. Now another Republican Administration is pulling the plug again. Don’t worry, I am sure the next Democratic Administration will continue the musical chairs by turning it on again.

  • Douglas Messier

    It’s true the project never went through peer review. However, the issue of the satellite’s usefulness was actually addressed at the time. Congress asked the National Academies to review the project. They found the mission to be “strong and scientifically vital”.

    BTW, when this came up last year, the annually savings amounted to $1.2 million. You could operate the camera and process the images for another 27 years before it would equal the cost of one of Trump’s golf vacations to Florida.

    The satellite is up there, it’s operating, doing good work, you think
    people would be able to drop the controversy from 20 years ago about its
    origins and not do this petty bullshit. But, there are people who can’t
    let anything go no matter how minor the issue or how long ago it occurred.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Would you really expect the National Academies to reject a project by a Vice-President who many figured would be the next President, and almost was? That is not how Washington works 🙂

    Yes, it is stupid and petty to turn the camera off, but 20 years is nothing when comes to political grudges in Washington.

    In terms of those other satellites, I agree they should be funded, if for no other reason to see how bad the mini-age that is now being predicted will be.

  • therealdmt

    Wow, that sucks about WFIRST. In particular, with its starshade coronograph (one of the elements causing the most development trouble, unfortunately), it would be able to directly image nearby extrasolar planets as well as spectrally analyses their atmospheres. To me, this is the most interesting thing going and exactly what I want to see funded in astrophysics.

    Beyond that, it was/is a mission with major tools for cosmology that would help us answer the big questions such as, well, the very nature of reality. This is the good stuff. From Nasa’s Project page, “WFIRST is the top-ranked large science mission in the New Worlds, New Horizons Decadal Survey of Astronomy and Astrophysics”. Top ranked.

    I hope to see this saved. I rarely say this, but, “Let’s go, Congress!”

  • duheagle

    When the proggies stop bitching about Nixon and Reagan, give me a call.

  • Douglas Messier

    How can I do that? You hide behind an alias. I don’t know your name much less your phone number? And why am I responsible for letting you know when that happens? Figure it out yourself.

  • Douglas Messier

    The satellite is doing valuable work so maybe the National Academies were actually right, whatever the politics.