Trump is Turning off NASA's Most EPIC Earth Science Instrument

NASA's Earth Science work has seen better days.


The Deep Space Climate Observatory, launched in 2015 by NASA and jointly operated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is one of the most, if not the most, critical pieces of technology in helping Earthlings prepare against the devastation that can be wrought by solar storms and inclement space weather.

But the observatory, or DSCOVR for short, is also spending its time in space looking back and observing the Earth with an epic camera literally called EPIC.

But, President Donald Trump plans to turn it off next year. Say bye to your favorite pictures of Earth.

“The terminations are due budget priorities and the need to match the agency’s priorities to the president’s current fiscal position,” NASA deputy CFO Andrew Hunter told reporters after the budget was released Tuesday.

The Trump administration’s 2018 budget proposal is here, and it’s not pretty for NASA’s Earth Science work. The administration plans to shut down five different projects related to studying the changes in the Earth’s geological and atmospheric chemistry — presumably in an effort to close off government-funded research into climate change. One of those projects, however, is already operations. DSOCVR’s EPIC instrument (short for Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera) is tasked with getting full range shots of Earth from afar.

EPIC’s shutdown is just one other piece of data scientists use while trying to ascertain how much the Earth is changing as human activity continues to transform the planet in unanticipated ways. But NASA’s hands are basically tied here.

The weirdest thing about EPIC, however, is the fact that it’s already on. Nixing it isn’t the same as shutting down additional spending into a proposed project. EPIC is up there, and turning it off seems to simply be Trump’s way of adding insult to injury. Granted, EPIC’s work is not as vital to scientists as the other four missions would have been, but it was certainly a lovely way of showing the public how pretty the blue marble really is.

NASA, for its best, is putting on as best a face it can. Hunter said the new budget “does still maintain a robust Earth Science program,” despite these terminations. Al Gore is probably not happy to see EPIC turned off, but maybe he’ll get another opportunity to collect these images in another four years. Hopefully.

What’s next for NASA’s 2018 fiscal year budget? Well, each spring the president submits a federal budget proposal to Congress. In 2017, Trump submitted his 2018 “skinny budget” proposal — a term given to new presidents who don’t have enough time to submit a full plan — in March; Obama submitted his 2017 budget proposal in February 2016. From there, each agency adds details to the broad strokes issued from the White House — which is what was released today. The result is the full agency budget that next goes to Congress. Next up, members of the House and the Senate can pass non-binding budget resolutions, or changes, about spending limits. If both houses of Congress agree to changes in the form of appropriations bills, then the president has to sign each appropriation bill. The fiscal year ends on September 30; rarely is the work finished by then. The 2017 budget was approved by Congress just a few weeks ago, now Trump is expected to sign it.

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