Nicola Fox on NASA SMD: All the science we do directly impacts civilization

Nicola Fox, with a little over a year under her belt as Associate Administrator for the NASA Science Mission Directorate (SMD), sat down with Steve Arnold, Deputy Executive for civil space activities at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, to discuss the myriad missions and challenges her SMD teams have tackled. The dialogue wrapped up a day of fascinating Space Science panel discussions during the 39th Annual Space Symposium.

Enthusiastic exchange about NASA science personnel engaging with the public across the country during the total solar eclipse gave way to more sober discussion of the fiscal year budgetary restraints imposed across the directorate divisions, with Fox remarking that each division had to make “really, really, really tough choices.”

“I had an $8.3 billion budget request, and we got $7.3 billion in the appropriation,” Fox explained. “Right now, I’m grateful for every single penny of that $7.3 and we will ring every ounce of science out of every one of those pennies, but a billion dollars is a billion dollars.”

Fox called out several priorities that remain despite budget cuts including moon programs as well as anything that supports Moon to Mars, international partnerships, and missions already confirmed, moving forward, or getting ready for launch. She and Arnold engaged in animated and informative conversation around many more missions and partnerships, including ongoing cooperation between her directorate and the NASA directorate focused on human space exploration and the burgeoning partnerships between NASA science teams and the commercial space companies.

Fox said she holds all the teams across SMD in the highest regard and praised the united response to recent challenges. “As the budgets have gotten tight our collaboration has become way more important and we’re all kind of breathing in together,” she said.

“Team SMD is incredible and when I say that I love all our missions equally, I do,” she continued. “I get excited about all of them, and I think all the science we do has direct impact on us as a civilization.”