Trump wants to erase pop­u­lar NASA o∞ce

The Denver Post - - NATION & WORLD - By Sarah Ka­plan

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

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