At Vox, David W. Brown describes howshort-sighted American politics mean that NASA’s budget for interplanetary probes will be cut to the bone. All I can add is that at least the United States is not the only country, or group of countries, with the capacity for interplanetary exploration. As posts I’ve made here have pointed out, India, China, and the European Space Agency have all done quite nicely with their tentative explorations of the universe outside of Earth orbit.
[T]he allotment for planetary science has been cut to $1.36 billion — the fourth such proposed cut by the Obama administration, and far short of what is needed by the program. (The rest of NASA’s budget goes to earth science, human space exploration, and operation of the International Space Station, among other things.) According to the Planetary Society, a nonprofit space research and advocacy organization, for the planetary science division to run well, the United States should spend at least $1.5 billion every year to explore other worlds — “less overall,” they report, “than what Americans spent on dog toys in 2012.”
Fiscal year 2013 saw the White House’s Office of Management and Budget call for slashing planetary science funding by one-fifth. Though Congress restored much of the money, the program has yet to fully recover, and with the doleful figures in the 2016 budget, it is again up to Congress to find money to keep the program funded.
In that regard, planetary science is at a disadvantage compared to other federal programs. During the budget standoff in 2013, for example, national parks were closed, which prompted an immediate backlash from the public. But because it generally takes several years for spacecraft to reach the outer planets, they are already funded by the time they start returning data. In other words, the ticket is purchased before the flight arrives at its destination. As such, from the public’s point of view, the planetary science program will seem stronger than ever, returning spectacular images of alien worlds, while in fact the program is hobbling along, ill-prepared for the future due to consecutive years of reduced budgets.