Trump wants to erase popular NASA o∞ce
Leland Melvin was, in his own words, “a skinny kid from public schools in Lynchburg, Virginia, who never in my wildest dreams thought of being an astronaut.” Boys like him aimed to become athletes, and that’s where Melvin seemed headed: He went to college on a football scholarship and got drafted by the Detroit Lions.
But then Melvin found out about NASA’s Graduate Student Researchers Project, which would pay for him to take night classes for a master’s degree in materials science engineering.
When a hamstring injury derailed his football career, he had science to fall back on. He got a job building sensors for rockets at Langley Research Center, then a second fellowship from NASA that allowed him to take more engineering courses. Eventually Melvin became associate
administrator for the NASA Office of Education, which runs the same programs that funded his education. In between, he flew to the International Space Station aboard the space shuttle. Twice.
The $115 million NASA Office of Education is one of several science programs on the chopping block in President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget proposal.
The Office of Education has faced scrutiny before. Its budget declined over the past decade from $180 million in 2010 to $115 million last year.
In 2015, an audit concluded that NASA Education needed to “collaborate and consolidate” its programs, which it said were fragmented and not effectively monitored.
Trump’s budget proposal, which was released early Thursday, criticized the Office of Education as “duplicative” and said it had failed to implement a NASA-wide education strategy.
In a statement released Thursday, acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot said the space agency would absorb its education and outreach efforts into the Science Mission Directorate.
Two weeks ago, Congress passed the “Inspiring the Next Space Pioneers, Innovators, Researchers, and Explorers Women Act,” which directs NASA to develop a specific plan for promoting women in STEM fields. Melvin also noted that the NASA Education program MUREP, which helps fund students seeking STEM degrees at historically black colleges and universities, will be eliminated — weeks after Trump signed an executive order moving oversight of a federal initiative to support HBCUs from the Education Department to the White House.
“We can’t say ‘we support this’ out of one side of our mouths and then go and cut the programs that fuel them,” Melvin said.
Leland Melvin talks about his experiences as an astronaut with public school students in Washington, D.C., in 2011. NASA file