Budget proposal would hit Goddard earth science missions

Trump budget zeros out funding for Goddard satellite to study oceans.

Deep spending cuts called for in President Donald Trump's federal budget proposal would fall on two space programs with ties to NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, both of which have implications for climate science.

Trump's $1.15 trillion budget proposal, unveiled Thursday, would eliminate an earth sciences satellite being built and tested at Goddard for launch in 2022 to study the earth's oceans. Another proposal zeros out funding for data analysis from two deep space science instruments positioned on a satellite already in orbit.

Given Trump's skepticism that human activity is responsible for climate change, it was little surprise his budget recommended slashing hundreds of millions of dollars from federal programs to tackle the issue. The blueprint also cut funding for efforts to reduce power plant emissions.

"I think the president was fairly straightforward — we're not spending money on that anymore," chief White House budget architect Mick Mulvaney said as he announced Trump's budget. "We consider that to be a waste of your money."

Presidential budget proposals rarely gain traction on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers have flexibility to set program-by-program spending. Opponents of the reductions say there historically has been room for negotiation in Congress to continue funding for space and science programs.

Trump's budget proposal requests $19.1 billion for NASA in the fiscal year that begins in October, representing a far smaller reduction — less than 1 percent — than he proposed for most other agencies. Within the NASA budget, the White House sought to emphasize space exploration over the study of earth.

That focus seems to square with one of the more aspirational passages of his State of the Union address to Congress late last month.

"American footprints on distant worlds," the president said, "are not too big a dream."

Yet the budget calls for cutting $102 million from NASA's efforts to study the home planet, including eliminating four missions. Two have at least some implications for Goddard, a 58-year-old Greenbelt, Md., institution that employs some 10,000 civil servants and contractors.

Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, noted there is a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers interested in space funding — in part because the agency has operations in both Republican and Democratic districts, but also because many feel the agency's work ultimately contributes to the economy.

"I do think that if the president's budget became real it would significantly change the mission at Goddard and significantly change the number of people employed at Goddard, which would be a major loss," Cardin said. "The work there is extremely valuable to the quality of life in America."

One of the Goddard-related programs zeroed out in the budget proposal is the PACE mission — short for Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem . Being tested at Goddard, it would monitor the health of earth's oceans, including the cycling of carbon. Scientists are eager to study the effect of algae called phytoplankton that absorb carbon dioxide and convert it into oxygen.

A report last year by NASA's Inspector General pegged the total, life-cycle cost of the project at between $805 million and $850 million.

The Trump budget also cancels funding for two instruments on a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite. Known as DSCOVR, for Deep Space Climate Observatory, it was launched in 2015 to detect solar storms that can affect electronics, the power grid and other satellites. The NASA instruments monitor changes in the earth's ozone as well as the energy reflected and emitted from the sunlit face of the planet.

The budget calls for eliminating funding for the earth-viewing apparatus, not the solar instruments. The mission, first proposed by former Vice President Al Gore, is led by NOAA at the agency's satellite facility in Suitland, Md.

NASA performs analysis and processing of data coming down from the earth instruments. The agency had requested $1.2 million for that work in the upcoming fiscal year.

It is not clear how many jobs are associated with either project.

NASA's earth science program includes 18 missions in orbit, including sensors mounted to the International Space Station. Several new missions are nearing launch in the next few years.

"We remain committed to studying our home planet and the universe, but are reshaping our focus within the resources available to us — a budget not far from where we have been in recent years, and which enables our wide ranging science work on many fronts," NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot said in a statement.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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