House Appropriations Committee Boosts NASA’s Budget

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Ignoring the Trump’s Administration’s fiscal year 2018 (FY 2018) budget request, the House Appropriations Committee has voted to boost NASA’ spending to $19.88 billion, including significant increases to the space agency’s Exploration and Planetary Science programs.

The appropriations bill is an increase of $779.8 million over Trump’s requested budget of $19.09 billion. It would increase NASA’s budget by $218.5 million over the $19.65 billion the space agency is receiving in FY 2017.

NASA’s Exploration program, which includes the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft, would be boosted by $226 million to $4.55 billion under the House measure. The administration had requested $3.93 billion, a cut of $390 million under current spending.

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Trump Administration’s NASA Policy Slowly Emerges

Vice President Mike Pence addresses NASA employees, Thursday, July 6, 2017, at the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (Credit: (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Vice President Mike Pence’s speech at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center last week was long on rhetoric and short on details, but a few themes and priorities have already emerged in the Trump Administration’s slowly evolving approach to the nation’s civilian space program.

NASA Will Lead Again

In a speech in which he repeatedly praised President Donald Trump, Pence used some variation of the word “lead” a total of 33 times (“leadership” 18 times, “leader(s)” eight times,  “lead”  six times and “leading” once).
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Palazzo Celebrates Proposed NASA Earth Science Cuts

Rep. Steven Palazzo

You might think that that being from a Gulf state susceptible to the effects of rising sea levels, higher storm surges and stronger hurricanes from a warming planet, Rep. Steve Palazzo (R-MS) would be a big fan of NASA’s research into global change.

Well, think again.

Rep. Steven Palazzo praised NASA’s move away from studying the Earth and instead focusing resources on the rest of the universe.

During a House Appropriations Committee hearing Thursday, the Mississippi Republican applauded the agency for proposing to eliminate five Earth science missions designed to measure a number of global warming factors such as ocean ecosystems and carbon levels. President Trump’s proposed budget also would cut funding for Earth research grants and would terminate the Carbon Monitoring System, a project that NASA developed in 2010 in response to congressional direction.
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Pence Promises Strong NASA, Provides Few Specifics

Mike Pence

Expectations were middling for Vice President Mike Pence’s appearance at an event in Houston during which NASA introduced its new class of astronaut candidates. He did not disappoint.

There were some hopes he might announce the nomination of a new NASA administrator. Or some new program. Or something newsworthy.

None of that happened. Pence did give a well-delivered speech long on platitudes, promises and soaring rhetoric about exploring the reaches of space but short on specifics.

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Congressional Budget Gives NASA $19.6 Billion

NASA would receive $19.653 billion for fiscal year 2017 under an Omnibus spending bill released on Monday by Congressional appropriators, an increase of more than $600 million requested by the Obama Administration. NASA received just under $19.3 billion in FY 2016.

The bill was released seven months into the 2017 fiscal year. The government has been operating on continuing resolutions since the year began last Oct. 1.

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Trump Wants Cuts in Current NASA, NOAA Budgets

This image shows the far side of the moon, illuminated by the sun, as it crosses between the DSCOVR spacecraft’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) camera and telescope, and the Earth – one million miles away. (Credits: NASA/NOAA)

The budgets of NASA and NOAA would see cuts for the FY 2017 fiscal year as part of $18 billion in reductions proposed by the Trump Administration.

NASA would see a reduction of $50 million in its science budget. The cuts would be
“distributed….across the science program, including cuts to unused reserves and missions that are cancelled in the 2018 Budget. It is possible missions would be delayed and/or grants reduced,” according to a budget document sent to Congress.

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Trump Proposes Shutting off DSCOVR’s Cameras

This image shows the far side of the moon, illuminated by the sun, as it crosses between the DSCOVR spacecraft’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) camera and telescope, and the Earth – one million miles away. (Credits: NASA/NOAA)

Donald Trump’s first budget proposal terminates three NASA Earth science missions now under development: Orbiting Carbon Observatory – 3 (OCO-3), Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO) Pathfinder, and the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE).

It also “terminates” the “Earth-viewing instruments” on the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) spacecraft, a joint NASA-NOAA project that monitors the Earth, the solar wind and space weather from a location 1 million miles from Earth.

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House Passes NASA Authorization Act


by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

For the first time in more than six years, Congress has passed an authorization act for NASA that calls for spending $19.5 billion on NASA for fiscal year 2017 and lays out a set of priorities of the agency.

The measure was approved by the House this week after getting Senate approval. The vote came five months into fiscal year 2017.

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Trump Briefly Mentions Space in Address to Congress

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

Donald Trump briefly mentioned space during an address to Congress on Tuesday night.

“American footprints on distant worlds are not too big a dream,” he said.

What this means is anyone’s guess. It’s the sort of platitude that sounds visionary but is actually vague, one that appears to promise bold action without a commitment to actually doing anything of the sort.

Trump was equally vague about space in his Inaugural Address in January.

“We stand at the birth of a new millennium ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the Earth from the miseries of disease and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow,” he said.

Trump’s budget outline thus far calls for boosting military spending while cutting back on discretionary civilian spending. And NASA is about as discretionary as civilian spending gets.

It’s likely the space agency’s Earth science will get whacked. Trump once said global warming was a Chinese plot to destroy American industry. One of his advisors said the research should be moved elsewhere in the government so as to refocus NASA on deep space exploration.

Fearing Trump, Coders Back Up NASA Climate Data

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

Wired has a fascinating story about coders who are backing up NASA climate data and keeping tabs on changes to U.S. government websites:

Like similar groups across the country—in more than 20 cities—they believe that the Trump administration might want to disappear this data down a memory hole. So these hackers, scientists, and students are collecting it to save outside government servers.

But now they’re going even further. Groups like DataRefuge and the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative, which organized the Berkeley hackathon to collect data from NASA’s earth sciences programs and the Department of Energy, are doing more than archiving. Diehard coders are building robust systems to monitor ongoing changes to government websites. And they’re keeping track of what’s already been removed—because yes, the pruning has already begun….

One coder who goes by Tek ran into a wall trying to download multi-satellite precipitation data from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Starting in August, access to Goddard Earth Science Data required a login. But with a bit of totally legal digging around the site (DataRefuge prohibits outright hacking), Tek found a buried link to the old FTP server. He clicked and started downloading. By the end of the day he had data for all of 2016 and some of 2015. It would take at least another 24 hours to finish.

The non-coders hit dead-ends too. Throughout the morning they racked up “404 Page not found” errors across NASA’s Earth Observing System website. And they more than once ran across databases that had already been emptied out, like the Global Change Data Center’s reports archive and one of NASA’s atmospheric CO2 datasets.

And this is where the real problem lies. They can’t be sure when this data disappeared (or if anyone backed it up first). Scientists who understand it better will have to go back and take a look. But meantime, DataRefuge and EDGI understand that they need to be monitoring those changes and deletions. That’s more work than a human could do.

Rad the full story.

The Year Ahead in Space

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)
Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

It’s going to be busy year in space in 2017. Here’s a look at what we can expect over the next 12 months.

A New Direction for NASA?

NASA’s focus under the Obama Administration has been to try to commercialize Earth orbit while creating a foundation that would allow the space agency to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s.

Whether Mars will remain a priority under the incoming Trump Administration remains to be seen. There is a possibility Trump will refocus the space agency on lunar missions instead.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who is currently viewed as a leading candidate for NASA administrator, has written two blog posts focused on the importance of exploring the moon and developing its resources. Of course, whether Bridenstine will get NASA’s top job is unclear at this time.

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NASA Administrator Remembers NASA Scientist, Astronaut Piers Sellers

Piers Sellers most recently served as the deputy director of the Sciences and Exploration Directorate and acting director of the Earth Sciences Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. (Credit: NASA/Rebecca Roth}
Piers Sellers most recently served as the deputy director of the Sciences and Exploration Directorate and acting director of the Earth Sciences Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. (Credit: NASA/Rebecca Roth}

The following is a statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on Piers Sellers, who passed away Friday in Houston of pancreatic cancer:

“The entire NASA family mourns the passing of scientist and astronaut Piers Sellers.

“Piers was dedicated to all facets of exploration. His curiosity and drive to uncover new knowledge was generously shared with audiences around the world, both from space and in wide travels to reach as many people as possible with an essential understanding of our fragile planet.

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Piers Sellers: A Legacy of Science

piers_sellers2
Piers Sellers floating above on the aft flight deck of the Space Shuttle Atlantis in 2002. (Credits: NASA)

By Patrick Lynch
NASA’s Goddard Space
Flight Center

Piers Sellers, who passed away on Dec. 23 more than a year after learning he had pancreatic cancer, leaves behind a dynamic legacy at NASA.

As an astronaut he helped build the International Space Station. As a manager he helped lead hundreds of scientists. And as a public figure he was an inspiration to many for his optimistic take on humanity’s ability to confront Earth’s changing climate.

But his most lasting contributions will be in the field where he began his career: science.

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NASA Earth Science Mission Hampered by Budget, Launcher Issues

Earth_from_Orbit
Although NASA’s Earth Science Division is substantially meeting stakeholder’s needs for Earth observation data, the space agency has fallen behind on launching an ambitious series of missions planned out nearly a decade ago, according to an Office of Inspector General (IG) report released last month.

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Will Trump Scrap NASA’s Climate Research Mission?

Credit: NASA
Credit: NASA

NASA does more than explore other planets; it studies our own.
Agency scientists worry Donald Trump will abort the work.

by Andrew Revkin
ProPublica, Dec. 12, 2016, 8 a.m.

The wonders of NASA 2014 Mars rovers, astronaut Instagram feeds, audacious missions probing distant galactic mysteries 2014 have long enthralled the American public. And, it turns out, the accomplishments have won the agency the public’s trust: Polls have consistently shown NASA to be the second-most trusted government institution, behind only the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The public, however, probably has less appreciation for the work NASA has done on its home planet. NASA’s $2-billion-a-year earth-science program has long tracked global-scale environmental conditions on Earth, including climate change.

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