How the Sequester Will Affect Science and Technology

At midnight tonight, the federal government's budget sequester kicks in. That means—if congressional leaders and President Obama can't sort out their disagreements over the country's finances—$85 billion will be cut from the 2013 budgets for government programs. Space exploration, medical research, and technology investment are just a few of the items on the block.

Here are a few examples of the fate which will befall science and technology funded by the government. NASA administrator Charles Bolden has said the sequester would hit NASA to the tune of $726.7 million. More specifically, it would mean canceling six space technology development projects including the advanced radiation protection that would be necessary for a manned Mars mission. Other projects include crazy stuff like "deep space optical communications" and "hypersonic inflatable Earth reentry test". It gets worse: NASA's crucial investment in commercial space flight projects like SpaceX would be cut by $441.6 million.

A Harvard study suggests the National Institutes of Health will lose $1.5 billion. The Department of Commerce says that NOAA—the people who forecast hurricanes and save lives—will be forced to keep thousands of employees and contractors off the job, and postpone launching two next-generation weather satellites for years.

So much for our destiny in the stars. So much for finding treatments for horrible diseases. So much for predicting the next coastal natural disaster.

Want more scary huge numbers? Slashdot has a round-up of links about the potential consequences. And remember, these cuts are happening across the board, so it's not just science and technology getting the axe. Here's hoping the last-minute negotiations are a success. [Slashdot]

Image from Artist In Doing Nothing under Creative Commons license