Pasadena's Science Community Reacts to President Trump's Proposed Budget

Published : Tuesday, March 21, 2017 | 5:02 AM

As many in the local arts and sciences community express dismay over President Trump’s proposed 2018 federal budget, officials representing NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Caltech say they remain optimistic and believe they will be sufficiently funded to advance the research and exploration missions which support America’s “continued leadership” in space science.

Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot said in a statement that Trump’s budget outlook for the space agency is a “positive budget overall” for NASA.

President Trump’s federal budget proposal outlines $19.1 billion slated for NASA, a 0.8 percent decrease from 2017 appropriations.

“While the budget and appropriation process still has a long way to go, this budget enables us to continue our work with industry to enhance government capabilities, send humans deeper into space, continue our innovative aeronautics efforts and explore our universe,” Lightfoot said. “The budget supports our continued leadership in commercial space, which has demonstrated success through multiple cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station, and is on target to begin launches of astronauts from U.S. soil in the near future.”

Trump’s outline specifically provides no funding for the mission to land on Jupiter’s moon Europa, cancels the multi-million dollar Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), and terminates four Earth science missions including the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3, or OCO-3, all of which Pasadena’s JPL plays an important role in.

In his statement, Lightfoot said while more detailed budget information will be released in May, the $19.1 billion request is a top line budget number as part of the overall government budget rollout.

Trump’s federal budget outline is only the first step in a long budgeting process, which includes the passage of budget resolutions in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The resolutions will still have to make their way through various subcommittees, and go through a lengthy reconciliation process, before a formal bill is submitted for the president’s signature.

At Caltech, President Thomas F. Rosenbaum was more blunt in his reaction to Trump’s budget outline. He did acknowledge, however, that the figures still have a long way to go before becoming final.

“The President’s budget savages science, the arts, and the humanities,” Rosenbaum said in an open letter to the Caltech community. “This is only the opening salvo in a complicated negotiation with Congress, and many of the most draconian cuts are unlikely to survive. However, it does underscore the need for us as an academic community to make a better case for the centrality of inquiry, research, and innovation to the nation’s well-being.”

Rosenbaum reiterated it will be the academic community’s duty to “generally and specifically defend analyses substantiated by data and arguments based on evidence,” and maintain that discovery and invention are essential aspects of a nation’s ability to compete.

“As members of the Caltech community, we have a special vantage point and responsibility to protect the values necessary to secure our nation’s future,” Rosenbaum wrote.

Speaking for JPL, Veronica McGregor, Media Relations Manager, said even if the Trump proposal does not fund a lander for the Europa mission, it does state that funding is included for a mission to repeatedly fly by Jupiter’s icy ocean moon, as well as for a Mars rover mission launching in 2020.

NASA’s Lightfoot has given assurance that JPL’s ARM team “will continue the solar electric propulsion efforts” for future in-space transportation initiatives.

“I have had personal involvement with this team and their progress for the past few years, and am I extremely proud of their efforts to advance this mission,” Lightfoot said.

Canceling or de-funding any of JPL’s missions will also not necessarily mean employees will be fired or laid off as a consequence, McGregor said in an email. They may simply be moved to other projects to pursue essential research.

JPL employs over 5,500 employees and typically a few thousand additional contractors work on any given day.

“In the normal course of business, it is quite common and customary to have mission personnel move from one mission to another. This is expected as some missions ramp up and other missions ramp down,” McGregor said.

McGregor also stressed nothing has been cut yet, and things could still go the other way when Congress finally decides on NASA’s and JPL’s budget.

Lightfoot stressed that even with the president’s budget idea for NASA, the agency will continue to be committed to its core mission of exploration.

“As with any budget, we have greater aspirations than we have means, but this blueprint provides us with considerable resources to carry out our mission, and I know we will make this nation proud,” Lightfoot said.

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