With its new budget proposal, the Trump administration is trying to shut down two major NASA projects. One, the Asteroid Redirect Mission, is a no brainer as hardly anyone outside the space agency likes it. But going after the Europa Lander is the definition of a futile gesture because of one man who supports it.
The ARM was born out of a couple of throwaway lines that President Obama gave during his now infamous Kennedy Center Speech when he announced that America would decline to choose to go to the moon. He promised that American astronauts would visit Earth-approaching asteroids along the Journey to Mars. Such voyages would take several weeks and would be more challenging than the Apollo moon landings.
Visiting asteroids in their native orbits turned out to be too demanding, as it turned out. The Asteroid Redirect Mission was born of the idea that if we could not go to an asteroid, we could bring one to us, which is to say orbit around the moon. The notion devolved further to plucking a boulder off an asteroid instead of taking the whole thing. In any case, a space probe with a #Solar Electric Propulsion drive would travel to an asteroid, grab a boulder, and take it to lunar orbit. Then astronauts on an Orion spacecraft, launched by a heavy lift Space Launch System, would venture to the boulder to study and admire it.
The small bodies science community hated the ARM. People who study asteroids and comets believed that a better use of taxpayer money would be to locate and track every object that crossed the path of Earth’s orbit, especially those that might hit the planet, doing us the same service as another asteroid did the dinosaurs 63 million years ago.
NASA is accepting the cancellation with good grace. Solar electric propulsion can be used for other missions, such as a sample return voyage to one of the moons of Mars.
The attempt to kill the #europa lander is going to fail. The planetary science community likes the idea of landing on Europa and ferreting out signs of life in the subsurface ocean on that moon of Jupiter. More important, Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas likes the Europa lander, understandable as it is his initiative. Culberson chairs the House subcommittee that funds NASA among other agencies. He will continue to support the Europa Lander, due to follow the Europa Clipper in the mid-2020s, no matter what Trumps OMB has to say.