In what is likely a negotiating ploy with Congress to prevent any budget cuts at all at NASA, the agency revealed late last week that it is considering cutting the budgets to both the Hubble and Chandra space telescopes in order to meet proposed budget limits.
In an Oct. 13 presentation to the National Academies’ Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics, Mark Clampin, director of NASA’s astrophysics division, said he was studying unspecified cuts in the operating budgets of the Chandra X-Ray Observatory and Hubble Space Telescope to preserve funding for other priorities in the division.
The potential cuts, he said, are driven by the expectation that his division will not receive the full request of nearly $1.56 billion for fiscal year (FY) 2024 because of legislation passed in June that caps non-defense discretionary spending for 2024 at 2023 levels, with only a 1% increase for 2025. “We’re working with the expectation that FY24 budgets stay at the ’23 levels,” he said. “That means that we have decided to reduce the budget for missions in extended operations, and that is Chandra and Hubble.”
That he provided no details suggests this is merely a lobbying tactic. Essentially he is saying to Congress, “If you don’t give me more money I will be forced to shut down our most popular programs. That won’t sit well with your constituents!”
That the House in its appropriations to NASA for 2024 did not cut the agency’s budget significantly also suggests this is mere lobbying. There should be no reason to trim Hubble or Chandra, which are two of the agency’s most successful projects, unless the cost overruns on SLS/Orion and the Mars Sample Return missions are forcing NASA to grab money from other programs. If so, that problem is not Congress’s, but NASA’s. The agency should reconsider those failed projects in order to keep what works working.
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