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.
The hard working but chronically underachieving members of Congress have been back at it. And that means all sorts of legislation ranging from good to bad to what the frak? Some of it relates to space.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) is preparing to introduce the Space Exploration, Development and Settlement Act that would enshrine permanent human settlement as part of the National Aeronautics and Space Act, the legislation that created NASA and includes its goals and objectives.
The measure is being spearheaded by the Alliance for Space Development (ASD), a coalition of 11 space organizations that launched earlier this year. ASD has been trying to line up Congressional support for the legislation.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has announced his candidacy for the presidency. He will be seeking the nomination of the Republican Party.
Cruz has already staked out a position on space policy, arguing that NASA is overspending on Earth science research at the expense of human space exploration. This is not born out by the budget numbers; Obama’s FY 2016 budget proposes $8 billion for human space exploration vs. just under $2 billion for Earth science.
But, hey, let’s not let reality get in the way of a good campaign meme. Cruz is the space exploration candidate, which he believes will inspire school kids, restore America to its former glory, and (no less vitally) keep his constituents in Texas employed indefinitely.
The American Geophysical Union (AGU) sent the following letter to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) after he said NASA was spending too much on Earth science research at the expense of human spaceflight during a hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness that he chaired.
13 March 2015
The Honorable Ted Cruz Chair, Senate Space, Science, and Competitiveness Subcommittee 185 Dirksen Senate Office Building Washington, D.C. 20510
Dear Chairman Cruz:
On behalf of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) and its more than 60,000 Earth and space scientists, I would like to elucidate our position regarding the value of Earth science at NASA.
Earth sciences are a fundamental part of science. They constitute hard sciences that help us understand the world we live in and provide a basis for knowledge and understanding of natural hazards, weather forecasting, air quality, and water availability, among other concerns.
It didn’t take long for critics’ worst fears to be born out. Last Thursday, Cruz decided to engage NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a debate over the space agency’s core mission. The consensus is that Cruz got the worst of the exchange, in the process demonstrating a lack of knowledge about what NASA’s been doing for the past 57 years.