Recently, we have heard more than once that changes in the budget of the aerospace agency NASA, as well as a change in the course in choosing priorities, can affect the future projects of this agency. And it seems that the first results of this are already beginning to manifest. First, it became known that NASA no longer plans to support the further work of the International Space Station in 7 years (by the way, the Russian agency “Roscosmos” also does not plan), and now another project may lose its funding.
According to the new draft budget submitted, if it is adopted, NASA will lose the WFIRST (Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope) telescope. The device, planned for launch over the next decade, was supposed to help astronomers in their study of the phenomenon of the expanding universe, as well as solving some of the mysteries associated with the so-called dark energy.
According to information published by the New York Times, the acting administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Robert Lightfoot Jr., describes this rejection of the project as “a very difficult decision.” He noted that the agency will have to redistribute funds from the telescope project, estimated at $ 3 billion, to other areas of development.
Astronomers met plans to reduce funding for WFIRST, of course, with hostility. The American Astronomical Society beats alarm and in its statement says that the reduction of the NASA budget “will cause significant damage to the development of American astronomy.”
“The bureaucrat’s bug overnight put an end to decades of work and well-established processes and decided to take control of extraterrestrial astronomy,” David Spergel, former head of the Scientific Council for the Exploration of Outer Space, said sharply in a comment to the New York Times.
Understanding the nature of dark energy – a cosmological force that fills up to 68 percent of the entire universe – could make a significant contribution to understanding why our universe is expanding. Scientists were eager to delve into the study of this issue, but for this they needed the best and most advanced tools to work. It was such a tool that the WFIRST telescope should become.
Initially, the telescope was planned to launch into space much earlier, but in the end it “gave way” to a more priority project in the face of the James Webb space telescope, whose value had long exceeded the original budget. When it became clear that WFIRST would not be launched according to the established schedule, NASA acquired the rights to use the Euclid telescope, developed by the European Space Agency (ESA). The purpose of the mission, as in the case of WFIRST, will be to better understand the geometry of dark matter and dark energy through a very accurate measurement of the acceleration of the universe. Nevertheless, it is expected that the Euclid program will not be as comprehensive as it was planned with WFIRST, so NASA will have to rely only on the data it will be able to obtain from other space agencies.
Earlier it was noted that NASA is going to concentrate the main forces on the renewal of the lunar program, which, in turn, will give a further impetus to the exploration of Mars. First of all, the US government set itself such a task before it, which decided several nuts and tweaked before that a more independent agency. But now it becomes clear that NASA is now in a situation where the choice of some priority tasks can drastically affect the fate of others, and perhaps even more important studies.
Of course, we should not exclude the possibility that in the current provided form the US Congress will not accept the draft budget and the WFIRST mission will be preserved, but the clock is ticking, and there is less time to accept the final version of the document.