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NASA budget plan boosts private space sector

Image: International Space Station
The International Space Station has been continuously occupied since 2000. (NASA photo)

The White House’s proposed five-year budget plan would provide a bigger boost to commercial space efforts, including a potential handover of operations on the International Space Station by 2025 and private-sector moon landings.

It also calls for zeroing out funding for some high-profile Earth science missions, such as the Earth-watching DSCOVR satellite and the next Orbiting Carbon Observatory.

NASA’s $8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope is still go for launch next year, and the budget supports the launch of a mission in the 2020s to study Europa, a moon of Jupiter that’s thought to harbor a subsurface ocean and perhaps life. But the next-next-generation WFIRST space telescope would be canceled.

During a “State of NASA” address delivered at Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, acting administrator Robert Lightfoot said eliminating WFIRST was one of the “hard decisions” that had to be made. He said the space agency would be “taking those resources and redirecting them to other agency priorities.”

Lightfoot said another hard decision would result in the elimination of NASA’s Office of Education.

Overall, NASA would receive $19.9 billion for the fiscal year beginning in October, thanks to a prior budget agreement already passed by Congress. That’s $400 million above current levels, with more than half of that money set aside for exploration programs aimed at the moon and eventually Mars.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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