Far Out

Five Coolest Things in Obama’s New Budget Proposal

Obama’s new fiscal proposal isn’t all about chained CPI.

President Obama’s new budget proposal is a mostly modest document, mostly emphasizing modest trims and reducing inefficiencies. But if you dig deep enough, there are a handful of exciting science and technology projects in there, including NASA’s plan to capture an asteroid and haul it to the moon. The Daily Beast rounds up five of the most interesting projects.

Lasso an Asteroid!

NASA gets $78 million to start working on a plan to capture a small asteroid and move it into the moon’s orbit, where scientists can study it and eventually (Obama’s goal is 2025) visit in person. The research would be a boon to prospective space miners and, NASA says, help develop technology that could prevent an asteroid from slamming into the Earth and killing everyone. The budget also asks for continued funding for the Orion rocket, which will eventually take humans to Mars, and money to send a large rover to the red planet by 2020.

Algae-Powered Ships!

The budget includes $2 billion for improving the energy efficiency of the military, which currently consumes three quarters of all the energy used by the federal government. Current projects include a massive solar farm at Fort Bliss, Texas, and algae-powered naval vessels.

Let’s Not Get Hacked!

Department of Defense, Homeland Security, Commerce: everyone gets money for cybersecurity. The defense section says “cyber investments” will grow for “Cyber Forces Led by the U.S. Cyber Command.” “Teams of cyber experts—including defensive, intelligence, and analytical—will defend the Nation, as well as DOD infrastructure, by conducting reconnaissance, surveillance, development, maintenance, and analysis.” The budget also promises an automated way to share information about cybersecurity threats while “protecting individual privacy and civil liberties.”

Fighting the Flu!

The federal budget also mentions two projects designed to detect and stop animal-borne pandemics. First, there’s $714 million in the Department of Homeland Security budget for a new “National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) to study large animal zoonotic diseases and develop countermeasures to protect our citizens and agricultural economy from future threats.” Second, there’s $155 million to design a poultry lab in Athens, Georgia, to study infectious diseases. The lab is “the highest USDA laboratory construction priority.”

New Satellites!

There’s a lot of money to modernize our moribund network of weather satellites. There’s money for National Weather Service supercomputers to improve forecasts and modeling, and money for satellites to monitor changes in sea level and potentially damaging solar storms. In the NASA budget, there’s $1.8 billion to revamp the agency’s Earth-monitoring satellites and climate sensors.