Trump Budget Hurts NASA’s Chance Of Shooting Down Asteroids, Finding Alien Life

Trump’s new budget proposal would axe NASA’s Europa lander mission, end the space agency’s Asteroid Redirect Mission, and complicate efforts to develop technology to shoot down dangerous space rocks.

The president’s proposal for NASA earmarks $19.1 billion for the space agency but eliminates some programs that have been under development for years, NASA’s acting administrator Robert Lightfoot told

“Overall science funding is stable, although some missions in development will not go forward and others will see increases.

“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.”

The cancellation of NASA’s ARM mission to put a captured asteroid into lunar orbit means an end to research dedicated to landing robots on space rocks, an ability the agency needs to redirect incoming asteroids. Testing of technology designed to extract resources from passing space rocks will also be cut.

[Image by NASA/Pat Rawlings/Getty Images]
[Image by NASA/Pat Rawlings/Getty Images]

NASA chose the asteroid Bennu as the objective for the ARM mission partly because the space rock has a chance of striking the Earth sometime in the far future and the agency wanted to study the possibility of changing its trajectory.

Already this year, three space rocks have buzzed Earth mere hours after being spotted for the first time, and NASA still has no way of shooting down asteroids that threaten the planet.

NASA’s inability to land on the asteroid Bennu also sets back plans for mining passing space rocks for valuable materials, an ability the agency will need to develop human colonies on Mars.

Other technological developments, like NASA’s solar propulsion method, can still be used on future missions into deep space, Lightfoot told the Verge.

“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.”

[Image by NASA/Pat Rawlings/Getty Images]
[Image by NASA/Pat Rawlings/Getty Images]

Trump’s budget for NASA also cancels the space agency’s plan to land a probe on Jupiter’s moon Europa in the solar system’s best quest for alien life.

The $2 billion Europa Clipper flyby mission will still launch in 2022 and arrive at Jupiter in 2029, but without the lander designed to explore the moon’s oceans, according to

“To preserve the balance of NASA’s science portfolio and maintain flexibility to conduct missions that were determined to be more important by the science community.”

The Europa lander mission was added by Congress in 2015 and was designed to explore the icy oceans of Jupiter moon, a place scientists consider to be the best place to find alien life in the solar system.

The $19.1 billion Trump proposed for NASA represents a 0.8 percent cut, or about $200 million, from the space agency’s 2016 budget.

Despite rumors about a return to the moon, Trump’s budget for NASA contains no such language, so the space agency is still on a mission to Mars. Funding for NASA’s Space Launch System and accompanying Orion spacecraft continue on par with levels needed to send humans to Mars sometime in the 2030s.

Without an increase in funding, however, the space agency probably won’t be sending astronauts on a trip around the moon, an idea NASA started exploring a few weeks ago.

Also missing from the budget is funding for NASA’s proposed cislunar station designed to encourage the developing space-based economy and replace the aging International Space Station, which is scheduled to be abandoned in 2024. Trump’s budget does, however, contain language encouraging the public-private partnership in future space missions.

What do you think about Trump’s proposed cuts to NASA’s programs?

[Featured image by Bill Ingalls/NASA/Getty Images]