Has Congress been watching too many reruns of Star Trek? That may be a generous explanation for the most recent budget bill which proposes a cut of $300 million from NASA’s Earth science programs. In addition, some members of Congress have spoken out to criticize NASA for spending too much time studying planet Earth; instead, they argue, NASA should focus more on space because that is what “inspires little boys and little girls.”
Although the ‘space race’ and existential implications of studying what lies beyond our atmosphere can be very inspiring, Congress’ appeal to our inner astronaut is disingenuous for several reasons. First, it is a false choice: there is no reason why NASA should not have enough in their budget to appropriate funds for both space and Earth exploration/study. Second, to slash research on our adaptability to a changing world in favor of lunar vacations would be, to quote one famous space man (rest in peace Leonard Nimoy), illogical. It is reasonable to question whether this is more about the majesty of our Universe or the travesty of our scientifically illiterate politicians.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden was very critical of the decision. Back in March, Bolden said that “earth science funding has increased and I’m proud to say, has enabled us to understand our planet far better than we ever did before.”
This week, in direct response to criticism of NASA’s lack of future ‘plans’, Bolden challenged Congress to “show me some plan they have for anything that they’ve executed, like a budget on time.” NASA’s research on Earth science has been vital and includes data catalogued through satellite imaging as well as important prediction tools for natural disasters.
Before we begin exploring and studying other planets, perhaps we should take care to make sure we can still survive on this one. The more one studies the harsh, cold climates of space and extraterrestrial bodies, the easier it is to appreciate the uniquely hospitable environment of planet Earth. But the past century has seen an acceleration of man-made threats to the biosphere, from global warming, overconsumption, deforestation, etc etc.
Fortunately, experts believe that even if the budget bill passes the full House, it will not be signed into law by President Obama. Officials in the Administration have already expressed displeasure with the decision.
Aaron Dorman, Intern