NASA has a little program with a big view of Earth, but President Donald Trump wants to shut it down.
If a new budget outline released by the Trump administration Thursday goes through, it will cancel funding for the instruments on the DSCOVR spacecraft that face our planet from 1 million miles away.
It’s a relatively small budget cut — though it’s unclear how much would be saved — in a proposal to trim billions of dollars from many agencies, but Trump’s desire to cancel this one specific part of a mission speaks volumes.
NASA’s Epic instrument on DSCOVR beams back a full view of the sunlit side of the Earth every day. The photos are made publicly available through a NASA-run website, and it’s a great place for any journalist or member of the public to go for a daily view of our home planet. These images allow climate scientists to get a good look at what the atmosphere is doing on any given day.
Epic’s photos are also simply beautiful. It changes a person’s perspective to see the Earth from 1 million miles away, without borders or any human-made objects visible. Everyone you’ve ever cared for is right there in that image. That’s something you can’t really understand without seeing our planet from a distance, and for the past year or so, we’ve had new views like that every week.
Everyone you’ve ever cared for is right there in that image.
According to Trump’s budget outline, the administration wants to cancel the program in order to save money for other things at the agency like exploration.
It’s unclear how much money NASA will save every year by putting Epic on the chopping block, but in general, canceling this program doesn’t make a lot of sense from an operational point of view.
The mission is already in space, so a major part of the money allotted for the camera and other Earth science instruments has already been spent. Plus, it’s not like the administration is planning to cancel the entire mission of the satellite — it will still monitor the environment around it, keeping tabs on the sun’s activity.
If anything, this proposal feels like a dig at former Vice President Al Gore, oddly enough.
Gore is the person who lobbied heavily for this mission, and specifically the camera showing humanity a full view of Earth every day.
It’s unclear if this is some kind of personal beef between Gore and Trump — even if it isn’t, the proposal reveals the president’s true intent when it comes to programs focused on our home planet.
Republicans in Congress have long-lobbied for an end to NASA’s Earth science programs, and Trump’s outline delivers on that.
These Earth-focused cuts aren’t just limited to NASA. The Environmental Protection Agency’s budget would shrink by as much as 31 percent. The State Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — two agencies intimately involved in climate science and policy programs — would also face deep budget cuts, among others.
Overall, however, many NASA exploration programs will fare pretty well under Trump if the administration has its way. (Even Earth science would still receive $1.8 billion under the proposal, though it’s unclear what exactly that money will go towards.)
Trump is proposing funding for NASA’s Europa Clipper mission, which is currently in development and is expected to eventually do flybys of the Jovian moon.
The administration also wants to expand the agency’s work with private companies, bolstering the private sector space exploration.
Plus, the administration reaffirmed its commitment to the the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket expected to bring NASA astronauts to deep space destinations in the coming years.
That said, none of these missions can get off the ground if climate change puts NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida underwater in the coming decades.
Plus, who knows where the next generation of space explorers will come from without NASA’s office of education, which would get totally dismantled and absorbed into other parts of the agency if this budget is approved by Congress.