Pence Promises Strong NASA, Provides Few Specifics

Mike Pence

Expectations were middling for Vice President Mike Pence’s appearance at an event in Houston during which NASA introduced its new class of astronaut candidates. He did not disappoint.

There were some hopes he might announce the nomination of a new NASA administrator. Or some new program. Or something newsworthy.

None of that happened. Pence did give a well-delivered speech long on platitudes, promises and soaring rhetoric about exploring the reaches of space but short on specifics.

Perhaps that was just as well. The focus was kept on the astronaut candidates on the stage, not on a visiting politician from Washington. It’s unlikely a visit by President Donald Trump would have played out the same way.

As to the platitudes and promises without specifics, here’s a rundown on what Pence said.

The vice president did reiterate the Trump Administration’s plan to revive the National Space Council after a 24-year gap. However, he gave no timetable for doing so.

Reportedly, the executive order to reestablish it has been drawn up and is awaiting President Donald Trump’s signature. When that might happen is unknown.

Pence would head the council, whose job it would be to coordinate space activities across the government.

The council previously existed during the 1960’s when NASA landed astronauts on the moon, and for four years during the term of President George W. Bush, whose proposal to return humans to the moon quickly fizzled.

The vice president reiterated the administration’s desire to make NASA great again so the world would admire it once more. Apparently, the agency is not doing great things right now and is not admired abroad, despite landing rovers on Mars and sending spacecraft to Jupiter and Pluto.

He also promised the administration would provide NASA with all the resources it needs to fulfill that mission, notwithstanding the $500 million cut it has proposed in the space agency’s fiscal year 2018 budget.

Pence said the administration would refocus the space agency on deep-space exploration. This is actually code for Trump to Earth Science: drop dead!  The Administration has proposed slashing five Earth science missions that would provide valuable data on global warming.

Pence spoke of increasing public-private partnerships without providing any details on what that would entail.

  • duheagle

    Earth Science constitutes mission creep anent NASA. There are plenty of other federal agencies that are more reasonable places for Earth Science to be pursued.

    As for other NASA cuts, the Office of Education spends $100 million a year, supposedly to boost STEM education. Looking into what it does, I find it sponsored a grand total of 12 internships last year. SpaceX, by itself, probably has way more interns than that. O of E also held a meeting with high school science teachers in California – the most populous state in the union – that had 30 attendees. I haven’t checked on what went on in the other 49 states but I’m sure it’s equally trivial.

    Even in California, which has one of the most expensive and badly performing secondary education infrastructures in the country, $100 million dollars will buy you a year of high school instruction for 10,000 students. NASA O of E is three orders of magnitude worse than that. This misbegotten thing should have been beaten to death with a shovel years ago, but I’ll take now anyway.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    “Earth Science constitutes mission creep anent NASA. There are plenty of
    other federal agencies that are more reasonable places for Earth
    Science to be pursued.”

    …. This only makes sense if Earth were not a planet. And in a lot of people’s minds, it’s not. This statement from a trained scientist is willful ignorance plain and simple.

  • Douglas Messier

    Earth science has always been part of NASA’s mission since it was founded 60 years ago. The budget has increased because the problems have grown more serious and urgent. The budget went up under Obama because the previous president had underfunded the programs.

    NASA has unique capabilities to do this research. Other agencies are also doing their own work. But, many of them receive data from NASA.

    The other agencies excuse is worthless because they don’t have the capacities to do what NASA does and Trump won’t fund them properly in any case. He doesn’t believe global warming is real, believes it’s a Chinese plot, and doesn’t care at all about environmental protection.

    As for education, Trump is cutting programs across the board, not just at NASA. So, I don’t see much commitment from him to really doing that right.

  • duheagle

    NASA was created in response to Sputnik. The first U.S. satellite, Explorer 1, was an “earth science” payload in the sense that the Van Allen Belts it discovered are part of Earth’s environment.

    In the early days, NASA did everything space-related. Non-core missions should have been divested as years went by, but that is seldom the case with government bureaucracies. Once they have something, it is generally defended to the last gasp.

    The NASA earth sciences budget went up under Obama because Obama was rewarding the people who provided the lies he needed to peddle his draconian Warmist-based statism.

    NASA has “unique” capabilities to do a lot of things. Most often this seems to be because NASA is zealous in seeing to it that no one infringes on what it has come to regard as its rightful turf. Strangling a succession of would-be New Space companies during the 80’s and 90’s comes to mind. That same territoriality still seems to apply anent other government agencies.

    Trump believes global warming to be a crock because it largely is. The “Chinese plot” thing is, specifically, a reference to the recently renounced Paris Climate Accord. Given China’s negligible obligations under same, even while being the world’s leading carbon emitter, when compared to what the U.S. was mandated to do, “Chinese plot” is hardly an inapt description.

    I have no idea what Mr. Trump’s general feeling is about environmental protection and I don’t think you do either. He and I agree that a pointless obsession with carbon emissions doesn’t qualify as such. You don’t. The previous occupant of the White House favored perpetually tightening regulation of things such as car mileage to advance a social engineering agenda more than for any diminishing effect it would have on “environmental quality.” Mr. Trump and his team have no such agenda.

    I rather hope Mr. Trump is able to make significant cuts to federal education outlays. There is zero evidence that education at any level in the U.S. has been aided by creation of the U.S. Department of Education. Simply because something is labeled as “education” should not render it immune from criticism. NASA’s Office of Education, for example, does laughably little with its $100 million annual budget as I’ve already noted.

  • duheagle

    Earth, as a planet, has been under scientific study for far longer than there has been a NASA. Space provides new capabilities to pursue scientific inquiry, anent Earth, but it hardly provides a rationale for NASA to take on earth science as part of its job in preference to other institutions that have been at this job for far longer and in more diverse ways. The org chart of the U.S. government is not Holy Writ. It is subject to modification for cause.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    The only reason you want to cease scientific investigation of the Earth by NASA, and no doubt other government agencies as well, is to deliberately close the nations eyes to studies of Earth’s climate and our effects on it.

  • Paul451

    In the early days, NASA did everything space-related. Non-core missions should have been divested as years went by

    It still refutes your claim of “mission creep”. Space-based Earth-science was the top entry on the first list of purposes in very first Act that founded NASA. Day one, Item one.

    Combined with NASA’s experience with planetary science, their relationship with instrument designers and makers, and their role in developing space science, it makes sense that only the most “routine” Earth monitoring from space would be passed on to other agencies like NOAA.

    However,

    rewarding the people who provided the lies he needed to peddle his draconian Warmist-based statism. [etc etc etc etc etc etc]

    As Andrew noted, your claims of being concerned about NASA’s “core mission” are a fiction. You are only interested in destroying Earth monitoring that contributes to the understanding of climate change. Pretending that it’s about NASA’s “core mission” is a lie you tell to trick people who don’t realise that.

    If NOAA had been given total control over the Earth-science budget on its year of founding, you’d now be arguing “Why do we have two agencies doing space missions? Shouldn’t our space agency do space missions?”

  • Douglas Messier

    > The NASA earth sciences budget went up under Obama because Obama was
    rewarding the people who provided the lies he needed to peddle his
    draconian Warmist-based statism.

    I wish you would take your paranoid conspiracy theories elsewhere.

    > Trump believes global warming to be a crock because it largely is.

    President Trump is a crock. He projects his crockiness on everyone else. He doesn’t appear to be the only one.

    > I have no idea what Mr. Trump’s general
    feeling is about environmental protection and I don’t think you do either.

    I can make a pretty good guess based on what he actually does. His policies tell us a lot.

  • duheagle

    Paranoia – baseless or excessive suspicion of the motives of others.

    The key word there is “baseless.” There is, unfortunately, ample basis for concluding that something is rotten in the state of Climate Science. The Climategate e-mail trove, alone, is ample evidence of active collusion to push a pre-determined line and drive dissenters from the field. During the intervening eight years, the evidence pile has only grown.

    As for taking my advocacy for truth in science elsewhere, I have taken it many places – including here – and may take it many more.

    Someone is projecting here. It ain’t me.

    Mr. Trump’s policies tell us he isn’t interested in exerting totalitarian levels of control over the personal and economic lives of ordinary Americans in the name of environmental protection.

    Evaluating public policy isn’t too difficult if one simply fails to excuse easily foreseeable disastrous consequences by granting them a “good intentions” exemption. That’s a public policy analysis framework that functions perfectly well for things other than the draconian leftist prescriptions for dealing with alleged climate change by the way. It is easily applied to pretty much any leftist boondoggle with similar results. Pretty much the entire course of the on-going train wreck that is Obamacare, for example, was foreseen and described in detail by its critics. They were treated as dismissively as we so-called “climate deniers” still are.

  • duheagle

    For reference, here’s the complete text of the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958.

    You are correct that earth science makes an appearance – barely – but very little of the text addresses this. The entirety of said text even generally relevant are the following three lines:

    Sec. 102 (c) – NASA objectives:

    (1) The expansion of human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere

    and space.

    (4) The establishment of long-range studies of the potential benefits

    to be gained from, the opportunities for, and the problems involved

    in the utilization of aeronautical and space activities for peaceful

    and scientific purposes.

    Sec. 203 (a) – NASA functions:

    (2) Arrange for participation by the scientific community in planning

    scientific measurements and observations to be made through use

    of aeronautical and space vehicles, and conduct or arrange for

    the conduct of such measurements and observations.

    That’s it. The term “earth science” doesn’t appear. Only the single word “atmosphere” in item (1) directly implicates a subset of what we now call earth science. Items (4) and (2) are there simply because they refer to science in general, not to earth science specifically.

    Nowhere is there any implication, never mind a mandate, that NASA should be in a leadership role in earth science.

    Much of the rest of the act reads like it might have been lifted directly from the authorizing documents of the Manhattan Project. NASA was pretty obviously a military-adjacent agency despite its explicitly declared civilian character. Like the Manhattan Project, NASA was a science and engineering-based agency stood up in a hurry to address a particular need. All the boilerplate about intellectual property and security might easily have been lifted intact from the Manhattan Project archives.

    The “by any means necessary” aspect of the NASA charter is nowhere more clear than in Sec. 203 (b) having to do with what NASA is authorized to do to pursue its functions and objectives:

    (10) When determined by the Administrator to be necessary, and

    subject to such security investigations as he may determine to

    be appropriate, to employ aliens without regard to statutory provisions

    prohibiting payment of compensation to aliens.

    This is, pretty obviously, the “Von Braun and his Germans” clause.

    NASA was created as a reaction to Sputnik – period.

    There are a few nods to science, likely because 1958 was part of the International Geophysical Year (IGY). Part of the U.S. plan for IGY participation was the launch of an earth satellite. This wasn’t a rush job at the time said plans were made. The U.S. didn’t think it had to rush.

    That all suddenly changed in October 1957 when the Soviets stole a march on us. In retrospect, it seems almost obvious that the USSR would try to do something spectacular both to commemorate its own 50th anniversary and to upstage the U.S. anent IGY. Mission thoroughly accomplished on both scores.

    So yes, earth science is barely there in a sort of “waving from the back of the convertible” sense, but the obvious thrust of NASA’s creation document was to get cracking on space technology development that would have both military and propaganda utility as much or more than the purely scientific.

    Manned spaceflight gets mentioned in a number of places, for example. Interesting how “that crazy Buck Rogers stuff” went from being risible in Sept. 1957 to a national priority a month later. Earth science was barely along for the ride.

  • duheagle

    I have no wish to “cease scientific investigation of the Earth by NASA, and no doubt other government agencies as well.” Quite the contrary. I think not only that scientific investigation of the Earth should be increased, but that it should be radically democratized. I’m working on a piece that describes what I have in mind that, I hope, will eventually be published by Jeff Foust over at The Space Review. It’s part of a series I’m working on which seems to grow more and more as I proceed. Suffice it to say, I can’t easily summarize my notions in a brief – or even not-so-brief – comment.

    I will note, however, that the biggest problem for climate alarmists has been “The Pause” in warming that is nearing 20 years in duration. The data that establish this have come from space-based earth science platforms. Doubtless the militant Warmists at NASA – and elsewhere – would like to have fiddled with this data just as they have with surface temperature data. The sheer volume of such data is almost certainly the only reason it hasn’t been systemically “adjusted” to death in service of the Warmist agenda.

    So, no, I do not wish to cease collection of relevant data. I wish, in fact, to collect vastly more such data and from multiple sources so as to render the currently-at-work sorts of scientific mischief untenable.

    Just as a matter of record, I’m an atheist, not a Catholic – medieval or otherwise.

    Funny you bring up the Jesuits. As nearly as I can tell the Jesuits are almost entirely progressive leftists these days – except about abortion rights. The Society of Jesus – you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy…

  • Paul451

    For reference, here’s the complete text

    And it doesn’t refute what I said, and it refutes what you said: Earth science is not “mission creep” by NASA. It was item one on day one of the agency’s creation.

    Nor does it refute any other point I made. That NASA is ideally placed to do planetary research. That attempts to remove Earth science from NASA have nothing to do with NASA’s “core mission” but are instead motivated solely by a desire to kill off climate change research. That if Earth science had been moved entirely to NOAA when it was created in the ’70s, you’d be regurgitating arguments attacking NOAA’s right to do “space science” instead of regurgitating arguments attacking NASA’s right to do “Earth science”.

  • Douglas Messier

    Facts (Reality)

    Obama raised the climate research budget because (a) it had been reduced under Bush (b) there’s ample data to show climate change is a real and present threat and (c) we need more data to understand the problem and address it.

    Paranoia (Yours)

    The NASA earth sciences budget went up under Obama because Obama was
    rewarding the people who provided the lies he needed to peddle his
    draconian Warmist-based statism.

  • Douglas Messier

    The simple answer is this: NASA studies planets. Earth is a planet. NASA studies Earth.

    This is a very hard concept for people who think global warming is a vast left-wing conspiracy to impose statist control on the planet. You can’t win an argument with paranoid people.

  • Paul451

    It’s not about convincing Duheagle.

    It’s about reasonable but politically naive people who might be fooled if the lobbyists’ arguments which he repeats were to go unchallenged. Unless you realise the purpose of the tactic, it sounds perfectly innocent and reasonable to talk about “moving” Earth-science to a more specialised agency.

  • duheagle

    Yeah, that’s what the same sort of people used to say about fat and obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

  • duheagle

    The repetition of nonsense does not transform it into truth.