Donald Trump’s first budget proposal terminates three NASA Earth science missions now under development: Orbiting Carbon Observatory – 3 (OCO-3), Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO) Pathfinder, and the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE).
It also “terminates” the “Earth-viewing instruments” on the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) spacecraft, a joint NASA-NOAA project that monitors the Earth, the solar wind and space weather from a location 1 million miles from Earth.
For the first time in more than six years, Congress has passed an authorization act for NASA that calls for spending $19.5 billion on NASA for fiscal year 2017 and lays out a set of priorities of the agency.
The measure was approved by the House this week after getting Senate approval. The vote came five months into fiscal year 2017.
Donald Trump briefly mentioned space during an address to Congress on Tuesday night.
“American footprints on distant worlds are not too big a dream,” he said.
What this means is anyone’s guess. It’s the sort of platitude that sounds visionary but is actually vague, one that appears to promise bold action without a commitment to actually doing anything of the sort.
Trump was equally vague about space in his Inaugural Address in January.
“We stand at the birth of a new millennium ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the Earth from the miseries of disease and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow,” he said.
Trump’s budget outline thus far calls for boosting military spending while cutting back on discretionary civilian spending. And NASA is about as discretionary as civilian spending gets.
It’s likely the space agency’s Earth science will get whacked. Trump once said global warming was a Chinese plot to destroy American industry. One of his advisors said the research should be moved elsewhere in the government so as to refocus NASA on deep space exploration.
Like similar groupsacross the country—in more than 20 cities—they believe that the Trump administration might want to disappear this data down a memory hole. So these hackers, scientists, and students are collecting it to save outside government servers.
But now they’re going even further. Groups like DataRefuge and the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative, which organized the Berkeley hackathon to collect data from NASA’s earth sciences programs and the Department of Energy, are doing more than archiving. Diehard coders are building robust systems to monitor ongoing changes to government websites. And they’re keeping track of what’s already been removed—because yes, the pruning has already begun….
One coder who goes by Tek ran into a wall trying to download multi-satellite precipitation data from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Starting in August, access to Goddard Earth Science Data required a login. But with a bit of totally legal digging around the site (DataRefuge prohibits outright hacking), Tek found a buried link to the old FTP server. He clicked and started downloading. By the end of the day he had data for all of 2016 and some of 2015. It would take at least another 24 hours to finish.
The non-coders hit dead-ends too. Throughout the morning they racked up “404 Page not found” errors across NASA’s Earth Observing System website. And they more than once ran across databases that had already been emptied out, like the Global Change Data Center’s reports archive and one of NASA’s atmospheric CO2 datasets.
And this is where the real problem lies. They can’t be sure when this data disappeared (or if anyone backed it up first). Scientists who understand it better will have to go back and take a look. But meantime, DataRefuge and EDGI understand that they need to be monitoring those changes and deletions. That’s more work than a human could do.
It’s going to be busy year in space in 2017. Here’s a look at what we can expect over the next 12 months.
A New Direction for NASA?
NASA’s focus under the Obama Administration has been to try to commercialize Earth orbit while creating a foundation that would allow the space agency to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s.
Whether Mars will remain a priority under the incoming Trump Administration remains to be seen. There is a possibility Trump will refocus the space agency on lunar missions instead.
Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who is currently viewed as a leading candidate for NASA administrator, has written two blog posts focused on the importance of exploring the moon and developing its resources. Of course, whether Bridenstine will get NASA’s top job is unclear at this time.
The following is a statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on Piers Sellers, who passed away Friday in Houston of pancreatic cancer:
“The entire NASA family mourns the passing of scientist and astronaut Piers Sellers.
“Piers was dedicated to all facets of exploration. His curiosity and drive to uncover new knowledge was generously shared with audiences around the world, both from space and in wide travels to reach as many people as possible with an essential understanding of our fragile planet.
By Patrick Lynch NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
Piers Sellers, who passed away on Dec. 23 more than a year after learning he had pancreatic cancer, leaves behind a dynamic legacy at NASA.
As an astronaut he helped build the International Space Station. As a manager he helped lead hundreds of scientists. And as a public figure he was an inspiration to many for his optimistic take on humanity’s ability to confront Earth’s changing climate.
But his most lasting contributions will be in the field where he began his career: science.
Although NASA’s Earth Science Division is substantially meeting stakeholder’s needs for Earth observation data, the space agency has fallen behind on launching an ambitious series of missions planned out nearly a decade ago, according to an Office of Inspector General (IG) report released last month.
The wonders of NASA 2014 Mars rovers, astronaut Instagram feeds, audacious missions probing distant galactic mysteries 2014 have long enthralled the American public. And, it turns out, the accomplishments have won the agency the public’s trust: Polls have consistently shown NASA to be the second-most trusted government institution, behind only the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The public, however, probably has less appreciation for the work NASA has done on its home planet. NASA’s $2-billion-a-year earth-science program has long tracked global-scale environmental conditions on Earth, including climate change.
President elect Donald Trump has named commercial space backer Charles Miller to the NASA landing team amid reports that similar minded advocates will be added to transition group.
Miller is president of NexGen Space LLC, a company that advises clients on commercial, civil and national security space. He previously served as NASA’s senior advisor for commercial space.
The Wall Street Journalreports that Trump officials are also working on appointing Alan Stern, chairman of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, and Alan Lindenmoyer, who formerly managed NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program. Both nominations are in the process of being vetted for conflicts of interest.
Though Americans might be surprised to hear it, Canada offers a good example of why there is a very real need to worry, and of how the coming anti-science administration could realistically affect all of national research. My home and native land has been a fair ways down the road America is just now preparing to travel and, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the endpoint is absolutely disastrous….
WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Beginning this month, NASA is launching a suite of six next-generation, Earth-observing small satellite missions to demonstrate innovative new approaches for studying our changing planet.
These small satellites range in size from a loaf of bread to a small washing machine and weigh from a few to 400 pounds. Their small size keeps development and launch costs down as they often hitch a ride to space as a “secondary payload” on another mission’s rocket – providing an economical avenue for testing new technologies and conducting science.
Two senior policy advisers to Donald Trump, Robert S. Walker and Peter Navarro, have published on op-ed in SpaceNews outlining the presidential candidate’s space policy. You can read it here.
“Public-private partnerships should be the foundation of our space efforts. Such partnerships offer not only the benefit of reduced costs, but the benefit of partners capable of thinking outside of bureaucratic structures and regulations.”
OK, that seems to have pretty broad acceptance.
“Despite its importance in our economic and security calculations, space policy is uncoordinated within the federal government. A Trump administration would end the lack of proper coordination by reinstituting a national space policy council headed by the vice president.”
NASA would be given a mandate to pioneer the development and settlement of space and a commission dominated by Congressional appointees to oversee those efforts under a bill proposed by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK).
The measure’s basic premise is that NASA’s problems stem from unstable presidential commitments to space exploration as opposed to Congress’ tendency to support expensive programs that bring funding into particular states and districts.
“Over the past twenty years, 27 NASA programs have been cancelled at a cost of over $20 billion to the taxpayer,” according to a statement on a website devoted to the measure. “Many of these have come as a result of changes in presidential administrations.
The following is a statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the House of Representatives’ NASA authorization bill:
“The NASA authorization bill making its way through the House of Representatives guts our Earth science program and threatens to set back generations worth of progress in better understanding our changing climate, and our ability to prepare for and respond to earthquakes, droughts, and storm events.
“NASA leads the world in the exploration of and study of planets, and none is more important than the one on which we live.
“In addition, the bill underfunds the critical space technologies that the nation will need to lead in space, including on our journey to Mars.”
The House Science Committee recently passed a measure that slashes spending in NASA’s Earth Science program.