House Members Want to Dump NASA’s Climate Change Research to Fund Human Spaceflight


As House leaders examine ways to cut spending and address the ever growing budget deficits that have plagued Washington for years, U.S. Representatives Bill Posey (R-FL), Sandy Adams (R-FL) and Rob Bishop (R-UT) were joined by several other of their colleagues in calling for a reprioritization of NASA so human space flight remains the primary focus of the nation’s space agency as budget cuts are considered.

In their recent letter to House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) and Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA), Posey, Adams and Bishop state that while “moving forward under a constrained budget, it will be critical for the Appropriations Committee to produce legislation that is precise in its budget cuts. For years, Presidents and Congress have charged NASA with completing tasks that fall outside the scope of NASA’s primary mission.

“Our space program attracts and inspires the world’s greatest minds and gives our young people inspiration to excel in math and science. Human spaceflight, however, is not simply a matter of national prestige. Our nation’s ability to access space is a critical national security asset and plays an important role in our future economic competitiveness. Space is the ultimate high ground and nations such as China, Russia, and India are anxious to seize the mantle of space supremacy should we decide to cede it.”

“Limited resources force us to make important decisions with regard to the objectives of all federal departments and agencies, including NASA,” said Representative Bill Posey (R-FL). “NASA’s primary purpose is human space exploration and directing NASA funds to study global warming undermines our ability to maintain our competitive edge in human space flight.”

“As NASA’s human spaceflight program hangs in the balance, it is imperative that we ask ourselves: What is the future of NASA? With the current administration unable or unwilling to outline a plan or stick to their original promises, it is time to refocus NASA’s mission towards space exploration,” said Representative Sandy Adams (R-FL). “That is why I am encouraging Chairmen Rogers and Wolf to reduce funding for climate change research, which undercuts one of NASA’s primary and most important objectives of human spaceflight.”

“It is counterintuitive to direct millions of dollars to NASA for duplicative climate change programs and at the same time cancel its manned space flight program – the purpose for which the agency was originally created. Far too many forget that at one time in our nation’s history we were losing the space race. With the creation of NASA, we emerged as leaders and have remained so ever since. If NASA’s manned space program disappears, our nation will once again experience a ‘Sputnik Moment.’ Our country will again watch from the sidelines as countries like Russia, China and India charge ahead as leaders in space exploration and missile defense,” said Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT).

In Fiscal Year 2010, NASA spent over 7.5% —over a billion dollars— of its budget on studying global warming/climate change. The bulk of the funds NASA received in the stimulus went toward climate change studies. Excessive growth of climate change research has not been limited to NASA. Overall, the government spent over $8.7 billion across 16 Agencies and Departments throughout the federal government on these efforts in FY 2010 alone. Global warming funding presents an opportunity to reduce spending without unduly impacting NASA’s core human spaceflight mission.

Editor’s Note: A number of things bother me here:

  • NASA did NOT “cancel its manned space flight program.” ATK’s boosters like Bishop need to stop lying. The shuttle phase out was Bush’s idea. Obama had little choice but to go with it, given the fiscal circumstances his predecessor bequeathed him. Obama canceled the deeply troubled Constellation program but put forth an alternative that, if successful, would leave us better off and more competitive.

  • Human spaceflight is already the highest priority in NASA. The space shuttle, space station and the development of new rockets and spacecraft already take up much of the space agency’s budget. How much of a bigger priority can it be?
  • Why blame climate change research? NASA’s climate problems are not responsible for the problems the space agency has had (a) running an affordable and safe human space transportation system and (b) fielding a space shuttle replacement. The former problem largely relates to space shuttle design decisions made during the 1970s and operational procedures over the past 30 years. The latter has much to do with a decision to base our future on shuttle legacy hardware that is expensive to build, operate and modify. That decision was driven by a desire to preserve jobs in Florida, Utah and elsewhere.If NASA did no climate research at all but followed the same human spaceflight policies it has been pursuing, it would be in the exact same position. Launching a handful of people on an expensive, complicated system that require a large standing army on the ground is why we may lose the new space race. And it’s exactly these policies that the signers of the letter support. This keeps a lot of people employed in their districts, which keeps them employed.
  • Earth science has always been part of NASA’s core mission. The space agency does a lot of global change work because it has unique capabilities. Because climate change is a multi-disciplinary area, it makes sense that agencies across the government are pursing research into it. There could be ways of better organizing and coordinating this work, and reducing duplicative efforts, but I see no specific suggestions here. They would use a sledge hammer where a scalpel is required.
  • Gut the program, kill the messenger. Gutting NASA’s global change research has been proposed before, usually by people who sincerely believe that global change is a liberal plot to destroy America’s way of life. The plan seems to be to cut NASA’s research and/or transfer responsibilities to other lower-profile agencies and then, in turn, quietly gut those budgets. It’s a clever strategy: claim there’s not enough evidence and that more research is needed, cut the funding, and then declare that we need to study it more. I think that’s the goal here.