NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, has been allocated $17.5 Billion in the 2015 budget revealed by the White House today, approximately $200 million less than NASA had requested in their 2014 budget, or about a one percent drop. What follows is an analysis of the budget, broken down by program.
- $3.051 billion dollars have been allocated to keep the International Space Station (ISS) program running through 2024. The ISS brings together a politically complex international partnership of space agencies to operate the elements of the station. Facilities around the world support the operation and management of the International Space Station: the principals nations involved are the United States, Europe, Russia, Canada, and Japan. The Destiny, Columbus, and Kibo laboratories installed by the US, European, and Japanese space programs respectively, perform hundreds of experiments in Biology and Biotechnology, Earth and Space Science, Human Research, Physical Sciences, and Technology. NASA hopes to inspire thousands of students to excel in engineering mathematics, and science by involving them in research undertaken at the space station.
- $15 million is earmarked for development of a mission to Europa, a moon of Jupiter – fascinating to scientists, because it may be the only other body in the Solar System with an ocean of water. If true, this would make it a prime candidate to examine for signs of life. NASA hopes to launch a robotic mission to Jupiter’s moon within the next ten years.
- Remember the movie “Deep Impact” – where Earth is hit by a huge asteroid? NASA is thinking ahead, developing a plan to kidnap an asteroid and put it in orbit around the moon, to be visited by astronauts. NASA’s website features an animation in which a solar-powered space explorer captures the asteroid with an enormous funnel-shaped basket, so that the astronauts can study it. NASA has not yet revealed an official estimate for the cost of this proposed program in the 2015 budget.
- $645 million goes to ready the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)- successor to the Hubble – for a launch in 2018. The JWST, named after the second administrator of NASA, is optimized for infrared wavelengths. It is designed to look for the first galaxies formed in the early Universe, connecting the Big Bang to our own Milky Way Galaxy.
- $4.97 billion goes to NASA’s science division to support the JWST, and to develop a mission to put the InSight lander on Mars – due to launch in 2016. NASA is also looking to put a rover on Mars in 2020, to look for evidence of past life on Mars. The InSight lander will drill deep into the Mars’ interior, using a seismometer to measure motions of the ground caused by earthquakes or volcanic eruptions, and other seismic sources. The lander will also use a heat-flow probe contribute to a better understanding of regional hydrodynamics and hydrocarbon occurrence in the rocky planet.
- NASA in putting $1.28 billion into developing a telescope called the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), to look for exoplanets –planets like Earth that might exist in other Solar Systems – and to study “dark energy,” the mysterious energy thought to be behind the expansion of the universe.
- $848 million goes to NASA’s Commercial spaceflight program, to support the development of private spaceships carrying American crew (so-called “Astronaut taxis”) – a program due to be certified in 2017
- NASA has a huge Space Launch System rocket program and the Orion crew capsule, expected to fly astronauts beginning in 2021. NASA hopes to send the SLS and the Orion to a captured asteroid in 2025. These programs are being funded by about $2.8 billion. SLS and Orion is set to try an unmanned test flight to lunar space in 2017, and a crewed mission in 2021.
- The proposed budget cuts funds to the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), which will be grounded this year unless NASA’s partner, the German Aerospace Center ups its support of the program. SOFIA uses a 2.5-meter telescope on top of a modified Boeing 747 aircraft to make observations in the optical to far-infrared spectra.
In addition to firing the imaginations of young children all over the globe with dreams of becoming an astronaut and exploring outer space, NASA has numerous programs to encourage more young women to pursue careers in mathematics, science and technology. The Aspire to Inspire program is designed to help middle school girls explore education and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. At NASAJobs students can look for opportunities in internships, cooperative programs and summer employment. The NASA website has a Kids Club, where younger children can learn about the programs, and see images of astronauts, technology, and space exploration.
In addition to astronauts, NASA employs scientists, IT specialists, engineers, accountants, human resources specialists, technicians, writers, and many other skilled workers. The work done at NASA represents an enormous sector of American scientific research, fosters international cooperation, and makes important contributions to the development of new technologies. NASA’s economic impact can be seen in education, in the creation of new jobs, and in technology transfer. If one aspires to a career in space exploration, or knows of a child who is fascinated by the vast mysteries of space, one is encouraged to visit the NASA website where a treasure trove of information may be found. There is also a video on the NASA website, in which aspects of NASA’s 2015 Budget Request are revealed.
By Laura Prendergast