The outcomes of several races in the 2018 midterm elections [theatlantic.com] may have an impact on the Europa Clipper [wikipedia.org] mission, as well as other NASA priorities:
Perhaps the most significant loss occurred in Texas's Seventh Congressional District, home to thousands of the employees at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. A political newcomer, Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, defeated the incumbent John Culberson, who has served in the House since 2001. Culberson, an attorney, doesn't have a science background. But he grew up in the 1960s [arstechnica.com] building telescopes, toying with model rockets, and reading popular science magazines. For the past four years, Culberson has pushed his colleagues in the House and the Senate to steadily grow nasa's budget, for projects including its climate-science programs [sciencemag.org]—which may come as a surprise, given the congressman's party line on climate change.
Culberson has fiercely supported one mission in particular: a journey to one of Jupiter's moons, the icy Europa. As chair of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science, Culberson more than doubled [sciencemag.org] the amount of money the space agency requested from Congress for an orbiter around Europa, from $265 million to $545 million. He also threw in $195 million to support a lander to the moon, which nasa hadn't even planned for, but would of course accept. Scientists suspect that Europa's frozen crust covers a liquid ocean that may sustain microbial life. Culberson was intent on sending something there to find it. "This will be tremendously expensive, but worth every penny," he said last year, during a visit to nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to check its progress.
With Culberson out of the House, the funding portfolio for the Europa mission could change. "I don't see any obvious members of Congress, Republican or Democratic, who'd be taking up that mantle of leading the Europa efforts, so I imagine that those are likely to start to wane," said Casey Dreier, a senior space-policy adviser at the Planetary Society, a nonprofit space-advocacy group.
Dreier said the development of the Europa orbiter, known as Clipper, will certainly continue. Since nasa formally approved [nasa.gov] the mission in 2015, engineers and scientists have made significant progress [ieee.org] on the design of the spacecraft. But without a steady flow of funding, its launch date could slip, he said. The lander is on shakier ground. "I don't think you're going to see money for the Europa lander to continue showing up, because that's money that nasa has not been requesting," Dreier said.
See also: Culberson's ouster could spell big problems for NASA's Orion program, experts say [houstonchronicle.com]
NASA's Europa lander may be in jeopardy after the midterms — and some are fine with seeing it go [theverge.com]
What the 2018 midterms mean for NASA and planetary science [planetary.org]
Previously: House Spending Bill Offers NASA More Money Than the Agency or Administration Wanted [soylentnews.org]