December 10, 2022

Trump just gutted the funding for the International Space Station

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Once again, President Trump is showing how short-sighted, insular and anti-science he is by moving to cut funding for the International Space Station (ISS) by 2025, replacing a broad international consortium with a limited U.S. program while pulling the rug out from under the budding American private commercial space industry. 


A draft of the President’s 2019 federal budget seen by The Verge which is due for release Feb. 12  would phase out annual NASA funding of $3 billion to $4 billion for the ISS after 20 productive years in operation and an investment by the U.S. alone of more than $87 billion.

U.S. astronauts, who have nowhere else in space to go but the ISS, would be grounded and commercial efforts by companies including Boeing and SpaceX would be crippled. The private companies have said they will not have their own orbiting capsules ready by the time ISS funding runs out in 2024.

Trump wants an American-only initiative to send astronauts to the Moon again, and for deep space travel to destinations like Mars, but there are no efforts to do any of that in place now and new ones will take many years to be developed.

The only big American program that is currently being developed is the Commercial Crew program which both Boeing and SpaceX have been working on. It would create space vehicles to take astronauts to, where else, the ISS, which is scheduled to be operational until at least 2028.

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It is not just short-sighted to cut the funding right now because there is no American alternative in sight, but also the signal it sends about our intent in space. 

Instead of working as part of an international coalition that would keep outer space open to every nation, Trump’s plan could start the kind of space race that costs more and leads to international rivalries instead of global cooperation. 

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Currently, NASA is the largest funder of ISS, which it operates in partnership with Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, with additional cooperation, funding, and astronauts from Canada, Europe, and Japan.

The ISS has become a place not only to test travel vehicles but also to do experiments like determining the long-term effect of weightlessness on humans. Both the government and the commercial industry use the ISS for testing programs.

“Small satellite operators have launched their probes from the ISS,” reports The Verge, “while the weightless environment of the lab allows companies to see if their hardware is ready for space.”

“Bigelow Aerospace,” adds The Verge, “which builds inflatable space habitats, has been testing out a prototype of one of its modules on the space station for nearly two years now.”

Showing how short-sighted Trump’s plan is, NASA’s Commercial Crew program will be ready for full operation just as the U.S. drops out of the Coalition. 

In theory, the U.S. could create new partnerships but that would take additional time and risk wasting all the achievements of the ISS program, which at present is the heart of the U.S. space effort.

For now, while the Trump cutback may still be adjusted and must be approved by Congress, the very thought will be like an earthquake under the foundation of the ISS, because the other partners all will now reconsider their commitment and funding for the program, which could be gone even before 2024.

If the Trump plan to go back to the Moon is really about staking out ownership of the lunar surface for commercial or defensive reasons, that too will be a long, expensive haul. Everything from the lunar landers to how to house humans there will have to be invested or re-invented, and then tested and proven before it will be meaningful – which is going to take a lot longer than the next six or seven years.

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After the space shuttle program ended, NASA had a plan for a return to the Moon but the Obama administration nixed it in favor of the ISS, which was renewed through 2024. That saved money kept the U.S. in space and created a way for all nations to work together. 

Now Trump wants to rip up the whole plan and use the funding on its own programs – which means a huge waste of time, resources and manpower – and the launch of a new competitive space race at a time the Russians have the lead in vehicles that can travel in space.

Unless Trump is doing this as a favor to his pal Putin, this is another really bad idea by a president who has little vision, few good ideas and a warped image of the future.


Benjamin Locke

Benjamin Locke is a retired college professor with an undergraduate degree in Industrial Labor and Relations from Cornell University and an MBA from the European School of Management.

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