NASA's acting administrator, Robert Lightfoot, maintained a positive and hopeful tone today (May 23) in a speech regarding the agency's newly released 2018 budget estimate. Although NASA is facing a 0.8-percent budget cut compared to 2017, Lightfoot said that considering the administration's budget tightening across the board, he considers the White House budget proposal for the agency to be a sign of general support for NASA.
Lightfoot discussed the agency's newly released budget proposal in a speech to NASA employees that was webcast live on NASA TV. You can see NASA's 2018 budget request documents here. Reflecting the President's $19.1 billion budget request, NASA's newly released budget proposal includes cutting the Asteroid Redirect Mission, multiple Earth science missions and the agency's Office of Education. [Watch: NASA's Future Plans Unveiled in 2018 Budget Request]
"There were still some hard choices that we had to make. We always do," Lightfoot said. "We just can't do everything we want to do. But we can do a lot."
The budget "really reflects the president's and the administration's confidence in us moving forward … and the importance of everything we've been achieving as an agency," Lightfoot said today. "I think you guys can take a lot of confidence in that, when you see what's happening in the overall pressure on the budget and our country. We did really well."
Lightfoot maintained a positive tone throughout his speech, praising the work of the agency's employees and contractors, as well as many NASA missions that are currently underway across the agency's various divisions. He said the budget proposal had no significant changes compared to discussions that took place in March immediately following the release of the president's budget proposal for the agency.
"What this budget tells us to do is to keep going," Lightfoot said. "Keep doing what we've been doing. It's very important for us to maintain that course and move forward as an agency with all the great things we've been doing."
The budget sustains support of the programs that will be necessary for NASA to achieve its long-term goal of sending humans to Mars, according to Lightfoot. Those programs include the continued development of the Orion human spaceflight capsule and the Space Launch Systems (SLS) rocket, although as both of those programs move closer to completion, their overall budgets will decrease in 2018 compared to 2017. The statement from Lightfoot included mention of the agency's goal of using Orion and the SLS to send humans on a trip around the moon in 2023.
"This budget sustains … that horizon goal," Lightfoot said. "It gives us the resources we need to keep exploring our solar system, beyond our solar system and exploring here on our own planet — to worry about our own home, what we're doing here."
The agency budget proposal cuts funding for multiple Earth science programs including the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) satellite; the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 (OCO-3) experiment; the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory Pathfinder (CLARREO PF); the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), which launched in 2015; and the Radiation Budget Instrument (RBI) that would have succeeded the Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES), the latter of which will remain active. In a statement published online, Lightfoot said the budget "still includes significant Earth science efforts, including 18 Earth observing missions in space as well as airborne missions."
In his written statement, Lightfoot mentioned the end of the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), noting that "many of the central technologies in development for that mission will continue, as they constitute vital capabilities needed for future human deep space missions."
He also briefly discussed how NASA might move forward in its mission to communicate with and inspire the public if the agency must carry out its current plan to cut its Office of Education.
"While this budget no longer supports the formal Office of Education, NASA will continue to inspire the next generation through its missions and the many ways that our work excites and encourages discovery by learners and educators," according to the written statement. "We are as committed to inspiring the next generation as ever. We're going to engage the public in the compelling story of exploration by the successful and safe execution of our missions, which is where our focus has to be."
"At the same time, we're going to take this opportunity for NASA to revisit the public engagement and outreach activities that take place on the ground at centers every day, to ensure that we are leveraging the synergies between education and outreach to facilitate meaningful connections," the statement said.
You can see a complete list of the agency's budget documents on the NASA website.