NASA Abandons Space Tech Development Ahead of Trump Budget Cuts
Last year, US President Donald Trump put forth a revised budget for NASA that is set to implement several key changes to the way things would run within the organization.
Notably, a lot of NASA's funding is to be cut, and its ongoing Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) is to be folded into "Exploration" projects instead—effectively, a lot of NASA's work to develop cutting-edge technology will be scrapped in favor of less-expensive projects that can be done without inventing cool new stuff.
While these new budget cuts have not yet been voted on by Congress, it seems that NASA is already making moves to oblige. This continues cost-cutting endeavors with the W-FIRST space satellite, wherein NASA has scaled back their intended project rather than risk allowing the mission to be cancelled entirely.
Needless to say, many experts are less than thrilled to see so much of NASA's research go up in smoke. The STMD represents a significant investment already, and losing so many projects will involve setting humanity's development of new technology back by several decades.
Disastrous news! NASA is already dismantling STMD @NASA_Technology, even though the President's budget is only a month old. Don't give up. We need Space Technology if we want NASA to have a bold future. I hope Congress will reject this gutting of NASA's technology investments.— Mason Peck (@spacecraftlab) March 1, 2018
It's likely that, in proactively complying with Trump's new budget, NASA's heads hope to weather the storm of an unfriendly government before ultimately allowing projects to bloom when a new, more scientifically enthusiastic president inevitably takes office. This may mean delaying some research by up to a decade, but it could help to allow some research to continue under the new organizational structure that NASA has chosen to adopt.
Steve Jurczyk, the associate administrator for the STMD, insists that the directorate isn't going away entirely; things are simply going to quieten down for a while:
It looks, then, like NASA is expecting this cost-cutting initiative to be a temporary setback that won't completely halt technological experimentation. Trump has even set out some big projects that he wants the space agency to be involved in, which will mean that some innovation will definitely continue.
The problem is that this really isn't the best time for the agency to be taking a step back from widespread research and development. With many commercial companies such as Elon Musk's SpaceX now vying to own a chunk of space, NASA's limited technological development will likely entice many of its scientists over to corporate enterprises who will actually fund their research.
This will allow many of the big innovations in space technology to fall into the hands of commercial companies, making space an even more corporate environment. It may be the case that NASA won't be able to keep up with the discoveries that inventions that occur during this period, as the ability to launch rockets becomes the sole domain of big business moguls.
It's worth hoping that something happens to stop NASA from losing out on much of its technological research budget, but at present, things are looking bleak for the world's primary government space agency.